American Outlaws (2001)
Director: Les Mayfield.
Starring: Colin Farrell (Jesse James), Scott Caan (Cole Younger), Ali Larter (Zee Mimms), Gabriel Macht (Frank James), Gregory Smith (Jim Younger), Harris Yulin (Thaddeus Rains), Will McCormack (Bob Younger), Ronny Cox (Doc Mimms), Terry O'Quinn (Rollin Parker), Nathaniel Arcand (Comanche Tom), Kathy Bates (mother of the James boys), Timothy Dalton (Allan Pinkerton), Craig Erickson (Deputy), Ty O'Neal (Clell Miller), Joe Stevens (Loni Packwood), Bailey McGuire (Jesse James' sidekick).
Just another of the myriad glossing over of the truth about Jesse James. To really like the true Jesse James, you would have to like homicidal psychopaths, but that doesn't seem to bother Hollywood or America.
I don’t know why I waste my time watching cowboy films about Jesse James. None of them present the truth about the man. Instead they promote the myth that Jesse was some type of Robin Hood hero fighting the ruthless railroads and railroad tycoons.
And often these James movies throw in anything they want.
For instance, this movie says that the James boys were part of the Confederate Army and served with distinction. Jesse never joined anyone’s army, but Frank did join, but it wasn’t the Confederate Army. He joined the secessionist Drew Lobbs Army. The only battle he fought in was the Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri. Soon after the battle he got sick and quit the army life. He instead went to a basically outlaw guerilla unit that killed whoever they wanted to kill.
There is a scene of the outlaws defeating a Union detachment. They make Jesse seem a superhero by having him ridet through a whole passel of Union soldiers shooting them down with his two blazing pistols. I detest these films that glorify the Southern cause and ignores the fact that the South was fighting to keep men enslaved forever.
The film does not show any of the murders Jesse James committed. Nor do they mention the atrocities and massacres the James boys participated in with another psychopath, William Quantrill. Instead, they make him a nice, polite fellow instead of the murderous psychopath that he was. And the crimes Jesse commits are justified by saying that they were just defensive actions against the ruthless railroad tycoon.
Now what if everyone moved by eminent domain chose to fight and kill those trying to get them to move? If that happened, the country would still be without an effective highway system and the resistance would have sped the destruction of the railroad lines in the country.
Jesse was no Robin Hood. There is no evidence that he and his gang distributed money to the peoples of the countryside surrounding the areas that they robbed, which was a huge area.
Jesse must have really enjoyed killing as he did so much of it. Guys like him do not make good soldiers who take orders and follow some rules of combat limiting atrocities. Outlaws like Jesse don’t want to join a disciplined army, but would rather raid and kill people chosen as targets many times just because they were for the Union side.
Jesse did marry his first cousin Zeralda Amanda Mimms after nine years of courtship. But Zee did not participate with Jesse in his murders and such, nor of saving him off trains, etc..
The disastrous 1876 raid of the James-Younger gang on a bank in Northfield, Minnesota is down-played. The botched robbery resulted in the destruction of the James-Younger gang. All of the Younger brothers in the raid were captured.
After this Frank James settled down, but Jesse got together a new gang. And the new gang had inner problems. Jesse killed one of the gang members and scared off another. Others were captured.
Just because the film is historically speaking virtually useless doesn’t mean it was a bad film. My wife enjoyed it more than I did because I don’t like pro-South, pro-slavery films and I kept scoffing all the way through the movie. My wife says they made Jesse a very nice, likeable guy. And she liked Colin Farrell in the part of Jesse. We both agreed that they made Zee way too intense to be really likeable. Except for the times she’s wooing Jesse or they’re kissing, she is either barking orders, looking extremely tense or glaring at someone. And Ali Larter as Zeee just looks too sweet of a girl to be a real outlaw. She looks like a pretty sorority girl, rather than an outlaw.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
For the Historical Background, see review for Jesse James (1939).
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