Our present actions often reflect how our past has shaped us. There are circumstances and past mistakes that we allow to define us, leading us off track and away from the right path. Family is your lifeline when you feel like you’re out of options. Sean McEwen’s 2023 thriller is perfectly centered on these concepts and themes. American Outlaws (2023) draws inspiration from the GQ article “The Whole True Story of the Dougherty Gang” by Kathy Dobie. It is also based on the true events of the case involving the Dougherty siblings, Dylan, Lee-Grace, and Ryan, who were involved in a cross-state crime rampage in 2011 and have received long prison sentences.
Despite its limited budget, the indie film gives the impression of a high-budget Hollywood production. The film made the most out of its 99-minute runtime, effectively holding the audience’s interest and sustaining a constant sense of suspense. Sean McEwen’s direction was on point, giving rise to phenomenal and convincing performances from the entire cast, especially the trio who mirrored the intricate interplay of this family flawlessly. His screenplay also distinguished itself by spotlighting the exceptionally well-structured and coherent narrative. The judicious incorporation of real-time TV news clips from the actual events, precisely timed, uplifted his storytelling to new heights.
The visuals are also something else; the cinematography is undeniably plausible, especially with the daytime light in earthy tones that create a visual atmosphere resembling scenes shot during the golden hours. While it effectively portrays different events and conveys its intended message, its defining factor is the deep exploration of the deceptive front within the American lifestyle. The way in which the underprivileged are consistently treated as less important explains how most children grow up with hatred and mental health problems.
American Outlaws (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
There are three Dougherty siblings. Two of them are twin siblings, Dylan and Lee-Grace, and they have a younger brother named Ryan. They are known for causing trouble in the hinterland of Lacoochee, Florida, and relentlessly bothering the local authorities in any way possible. Ryan, who was previously released from prison under supervision, is discovered to have violated the rules of his parole because he sent inappropriate text messages to a minor. The parole officer gives him an ultimatum: either he sorts out the problem or faces 15 years in prison. Ryan and his girlfriend, Amber, are about to have a baby.
Therefore, the idea of going to jail is his worst nightmare. He wants to avoid getting into any legal trouble that could lead to incarceration because he wants to be there for Amber and their child during this important time. On the other hand, Dylan suggests having a vacation where all three of them would go on a road trip heading west toward some state in South America. It doesn’t take him long to persuade his siblings as they don’t have a serious life plan or daily routine, and it might offer a welcome escape from their situations.
Lee-Grace’s world revolves around drugs and being in a club, while Ryan’s life is unproductive and not contributing much. Dylan says that after he and Ryan have settled into their new home, they should arrange for Amber and his son to come and join them. That’s where their cross-country trip is about to begin. However, it seems like the Dougherty siblings continually tend to run into trouble wherever they go. As they drive fast on the highway, a police car comes out of nowhere and pulls them over for exceeding the speed limit.
Nevertheless, instead of handling the situation calmly and cooperating with the police, Dylan decides to worsen the situation. He takes out a firearm, shoots the police car, escapes, and that’s way more serious than being pulled over for exceeding the speed limit. It’s unclear where they get their irrational motivations and decide to commit a bank robbery this time. They arm themselves with an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol to carry out this crime. After they rob the bank, they manage to escape from the scene before the police arrive.
The siblings resolve to abandon their current car, which they have used for criminal activities, and purchase a new one. While the brothers are handling the car negotiation with the owner of a car store, something else is happening all at once. Lee-Grace is also separately trying to negotiate for a new car with another salesman. At the same time, she is approached by the store owner’s son, and they make an agreement that she has to engage in sexual activity with him in exchange for drugs as part of their agreement.
As they are about to do it, Lee-Grace can’t help but initiate a conversation where she shares how she dreams of having a family, being a housewife, having children, and even simply cooking for her future husband. However, it only infuriates the drug dealer, and when she attempts to refuse to continue their agreement, he becomes violent. Lee-Grace hits the dealer on the head with a wrench, then runs away. She calls her brothers for help and tells them to leave right away. At this moment, the authorities in Georgia, Florida, and nearby states are actively searching for them.
Their mugshots have been shared and displayed on major news outlets across the entire country, making their case widely known and visible to the public. They are at the gas station. Ryan and a gas station attendant are having a conversation. He is happily sharing that his girlfriend is about to give birth. However, as he watches the news, his mood changes to worry. The news mentions Ryan and his siblings and that two detectives are actively chasing leads related to them, including the one who initially forced Lee Grace into an agreement. They hastily think about where they should hide.
American Outlaws (2023) Movie Ending, Explained:
Do any witnesses identify the Dougherty siblings?
The siblings, who are in need of a ride, manage to get the attention of an old couple driving by. The woman invites them into their car and warmly asks them to visit their home for a slice of pie. Lee-Grace then starts speaking enthusiastically about her family and how she appreciates the warmth and generosity of the old couple. But the situation turns when news about the Dougherty siblings comes on the radio. That said, the old couple becomes aware that they are being chased. Dylan immediately takes out his gun and tells Ryan to escort Lee-Grace to their car.
While Lee-Grace firmly defies Dylan’s use of the gun or harming anyone, Dylan doesn’t listen and continues to point his gun at the couple. When the moment comes for him to actually pull the trigger and kill the couple, the retired Navy man promptly expresses forgiveness for whatever Dylan might have done to them, causing Dylan to pause and hesitate. He returns to the car, and they drive off to Colorado, where they have wanted to go for a long time.
Is there a particular reason behind the Dougherty siblings’ misery and rebellion?
The old couple reports everything to the authorities, and the detectives arrive at their residence. She informs them that she heard Lee Grace mention that she wants to go to Colorado at some point. Once they hear about it, the detectives decide to go to Colorado. After a day of playing in the refreshing waters of a lake and reminiscing about their childhood, during the nighttime, reality hits Dylan. He begins to remember the traumatic events that tore their family apart, with memories of his siblings being abused haunting him, and he starts hallucinating that his brother and sister are being abused.
In his distressed state, he comes across a campsite and discovers some materials, so he calls for his siblings to help. Even though they had intended to leave money for what they took, they encounter a family, including a young child, at the campsite, which disrupts their plans. Dylan attempts to tie up the family. But Lee-Grace opposes him by pointing a gun at him. Ryan intervenes, telling the family to escape, and they quickly comply. Their actions would let the police know about the crimes they have recently committed.
Did the authorities manage to catch them?
They have solemnly agreed to stand by each other’s side no matter what, a commitment that has been a central part of their lives as siblings for as long as they can remember. This commitment is the bedrock of their relationship. When they are heading to Mexico, they notice a police car following them. The situation quickly escalates as more police cars join the chase.
The sudden change in circumstances makes them anxious and uncertain, and they are trying to understand what it means to be chased by the authorities. Stuck between surrendering to the authorities or trying to escape, this decision weighs heavily on them. No one expected one of them to take a bold and risky move, like how Ryan deviated from their planned route to outrun the police.
Their escape plan hits a major problem when their car suddenly stops because the police have placed a spike strip on the road to halt them. Even though they have guns, they deliberately choose not to use them against the police. Instead, they fire warning shots into the air, which they do out of desperation to prevent a potentially deadly fight. They are still arrested, and they manage to fire some warning shots into the air. Dylan gets injured and is then handcuffed. Lee-Grace is pinned down by the police, and Ryan runs to the edge of a cliff but eventually surrenders. Before being taken away in different mobile units, the siblings communicate by mimicking the cawing sounds of crows, which is their way of telling each other that nothing will break their bond.
How does the American Outlaws end?
As the American Outlaws ends, real news reports and title cards inform us that the siblings were collectively sentenced to 179 years in prison. However, Dylan attempted to escape from prison, even managing to exit his cell to pass a note to his sister, promising to release her as well. There’s no information available about the youngest sibling, Ryan. The siblings, even to this day, refuse to accept their imprisonment. The judge who imposed their sentences following their 8-day criminal activities said it was fortunate that no one lost their life during the wild chase across the country led by the Dougherty siblings.