American Outlaws

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Lately, there haven’t been a lot of Western movies around. While it’s true that there are plenty (How many times has Hollywood returned to the O.K. Corral?) of this genre out there, the last 15 years has only seen a handful. Movies like Young Guns, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp are some that stand out as more recent Westerns and Unforgiven has been called on the best of all time. While this may be an untapped market as of late, some may feel that these may have died out. In any case, we are treated to a "new" breed of Western in the form of American Outlaws. While this is yet another telling of the Frank and Jessie James tale, we see them as "beautiful" people. I mean do you really think Jessie James looked at all like Colin Farrell? I do tend to classify these movies into two types, though. There are the historically accurate Westerns like Wyatt Earp and then there are the Westerns that concentrate on, let’s say, the "entertainment" side of things. American Outlaws is certainly the latter. Let’s take a trip back in time to the "Old West" shall we?

As we meet the group of friends (relatives, actually) who will eventually become the members of the James/Younger klan, we see that they are from Liberty, Missouri. Fighting in what appears to literally be the last battle of the Civil War, the gang learns that Lee has surrendered at Appomatix and then heads back home. As they arrive, they see that the government has almost taken the town over. They are trying to expand the railroad Westward and are buying the plots of land that are in the way of their expansion. Of course, if they owners refuse to sell, they’re tried for treason and then hanged. Tough choice! When it’s the James’ turn to decide on an offer (at $2 an acre), they refuse and in the process, make enemies of the gentlemen of the Government most angry. Frank (Gabriel Macht) and Jessie (Colin Farrell) just want to return back to their farm and work and help surrport their mother (Kathy Bates). While Jessie has eyes for Zee Mimms (Ali Larter), it’s fate that makes them take a detour from what they want to do and what happens next…

As the Government agents have made their way over to the Younger ranch, things got out of hand and Cole (Scott Caan) has killed two of them. As it turns out, he is tried and convicted of murdering a Federal officer and is set to be hanged. Mouting a rescue, the rest of the gang rescues Cole and they figure out the best way to beat the Government isn’t to kill people, but rob the banks that house their money. Hence the James/Younger band of outlaws is born! The gang is so successful at bank robbing that they do make an impact on the process of the railroad. Security man, Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) is set to track the gang down and eliminate them, but he’s taking his time and the railroad is going nowhere. The James/Younger troop is also very popular with the local people as they are sort of like Robin Hood…they give their money away to farmers and towns, thereby locking in their chance to never be convicted of a crime in their state. As they see the end coming, Jessie wants to get out of the gang. He wants to marry Zee and start a life together, but the small matter of him getting captured might just stand in the way.

As I mentioned before, I’m not sure how historically accurate American Outlaws is, but half the fun is watching the movie. Yes, maybe women didn’t look like Zee and maybe men didn’t look like Jessie, but the dialogue is clever and the action is plentiful. The young cast looks a bit uncomfortable in their roles and the accents tend to come and go, but they look the part and for a movie as paper thin as this, that’s really all that counts. Good performances from such seasoned actors as Timothy Dalton, Kathy Bates, Ronny Cox and Terry O’Quinn give the movie the support it needs. If you’re good at suspending your disbelief and aren’t a major history buff of the Old West, then you just might find American Outlaws as enjoyable as I did. If you’re a fan of movies like Tombstone and Young Guns, then give American Outlaws a try.

Video: How does it look?

American Outlaws has a very unique style to it visually. A special laboratory technique called "Pull" processing was used on the original negative, producing less contrast and slightly muted colors to give the film it’s western "look". I can think of movies like ‘Se7en’ and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ where this was done as well. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks great, but I caught just a few flaws that kept it from being one of the better images I’ve seen. Aside from some artifacting, which I think is a result of the processing technique, the colors do look very muted. For me, the flesh tones seemed to be a bit too red at times, but on the whole it looks very nice. Black levels are right on target and there is just the slightest bit of edge enhancement that might distract you a bit.

Audio: How does it sound?

To the best of my knowledge this is the first Warner title to feature a DTS track since they launched a wave more than a year ago (Lethal Weapon movies, Interview with the Vampire and Twister). Warner has announced that the DTS was not very well-received and I was surprised to see it included on the disc. The track is very active and though it’s not reference quality, I found it to be one of the better soundtracks that I’ve heard in a while. The first scene takes place during the Civil War and the surrounds are constantly in use with bullets whizzing by and explosions in the background. And speaking of explosions, there seem to be an awful lot of them for this time period, but hey…it’s a fun movie so why not? Dialogue is free of any distortion and the Dolby Digital sounds just as good as the DTS track here. There is also a Dolby Surround mix if you decide you can’t handle the full force of the 5.1 soundtracks! Awesome sound!

Supplements: What are the extras?

While American Outlaws isn’t labeled as such, it does feature a number of supplements. The first is a feature-length commentary by Director Les Mayfield. Mayfield also helmed Flubber and Miracle on 34th Street (the new one) and is very talkative throughout the track. He is like this on the “Making of Featurette” as well. He’s very proud of his work here and is also joined by editor Michael Tronick and co-writer John Rogers. Next up are some Deleted Scenes, though only two I would have figured there might be a commentary as to why they were dropped from the movie. They’re essentially only about a collective minute cut out of the movie, but it’s only two scenes–so I don’t think it would have affected the movie one way or another. Four featurettes are also included. The first is a nine minute featurette called “The Making of American Outlaws”, it’s essentially Mayfield talking of how the movie came to be and interviews with the cast. “Creating the Old West” is essentially 6 minutes of how they took a barren Texas wasteland and in six weeks made it into a town. It told of the temperature (45 of the 60 days were in triple digits) and how they photographed different parts of the town to make other towns. Very interesting. “How to be an Outlaw” tells of the actors and how they trained to become cowboys. They went to cowboy camp where they learned how to ride and shoot and do all those fancy things with the guns. Lastly, “Costuming the Cowboys” is a series of still images of the wardrobes with a commentary by the Costume Designer Luke Reichle. A series of still photos and artwork can also be seen as can the original trailer and several TV spots. Overall, it’s a nice little DVD and not as bad a movie as you might think. If you’re in the mood for a little fun, give American Outlaws a try.

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