Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, The Outlaw Josey Wales is a story of revenge and retribution. When a rogue group of Unionist soldiers known as the Redlegs attack Josey’s farm, killing his wife and son, he joins a group of men aiming to bring their own flavour of justice to the Redlegs. With the end of the war the renegades turn themselves in, all except Josey, who becomes outlaw number one.

Josey is a very interesting character; initially emotionally broken by the murder of his wife and son, he becomes a real hard man, shooting and killing his way to inner peace. As the film progresses we learn that he never lost the desire to lead a peaceful life with a family. As he travels, evading both the Unionist men hunting him and Bounty Hunters, he meets/rescues other lost souls until he has essentially surrounded himself with a surrogate family. It is also quite striking how Josey portrays the native Americans in the film. In a lot of classic Westerns the “Injuns” are the bad guys; the enemy here is definitely the soldiers who murdered his family, whereas the Cherokee and Navajo are just people (funnily enough) who believe in Josey. Even when Josey meets Ten Bears, the chief of a ferocious-looking tribe, he speaks to him as an equal and negotiates a peaceful solution.

Of course what we want to see in a Clint Eastwood Western is Clint being quick on the draw, delivering a great script, and generally being cool; and Josey Wales doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of duels/shootouts/sticky situations; all of which are dealt with in typical cool Clint style. The film also looks amazing, lots of lovely cinematography of the Utah landscape giving a really epic feel. The cast is great, low-key (if a cast can be low-key?), and they all work really well together. However I feel that I must mention Chief Dan George who plays Lone Watie, the first person that starts to tag along with Josey. He is the main supporting actor I guess, and he is great; laid back, sarcastic, and has quite a sense of humour, and (get this) he was born in 1899! That’s crazy!

This is the fourth film that Eastwood both directed and starred in. When I recently watched The Town, the DVD extras make a big song and dance about how great Ben Affleck is because he both starred and directed. I enjoyed The Town, but Clint has been starring and directing since before Affleck was born! Though credit to Affleck, he was 38 when the made The Town, and Clint was 41 when he made his first film, Play Misty for Me.

In a time when interest in Westerns was waning, Clint really invigorated the genre when he made Josey Wales; to such an extent that it received a nomination for an Academy Award. OK, so it was for best original score, but it’s impressive that the movie got that much attention; and not that I generally put much stock by these things but the film still has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes! I think that it is a great film; simple yet effective revenge story, Clint is wonderful as the outlaw who has far more of a moral compass than the Unionists, great dry sense of humour in the script, excellent supporting cast and wonderful scenery.