American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
For years there have been reports of the death of the Western. Now comes "American Outlaws," proof that even the B Western is dead. It only wants to be a bad movie, and fails. Imagine the cast of "American Pie" given a camera, lots of money, costumes and horses, and told to act serious and pretend to be cowboys, and this is what you might get.
The movie tells the story of the gang formed by Jesse James and Cole Younger after the Civil War--a gang which, in this movie, curiously embodies the politics of the anti-globalization demonstrators at Seattle, Sweden and Genoa. A railroad is a-comin' through, and they don't want it. When the railroad hires Pinkertons to blow up farms, and Jesse and Frank's mother is blowed up real good, the boys vow revenge. They will steal the railroad's payroll from banks, and blow up tracks.
It is curious that they are against the railroad. In much better movies like "The Claim," the coming of the railroad is seen by everybody as an economic windfall, and it creates fortunes by where it decides to lay its tracks. For farmers, it was a lifeblood--a fast and cheap way to get livestock and crops to market.
But the James farm is one of those movie farms where nothing much is done. There are no visible herds or crops, just some chickens scratching in the dirt, and Ma James (Kathy Bates) apparently works it by herself while the boys are off to war. Her hardest labor during the whole movie is her death scene.