After avenging his family's brutal murder, Wales is pursued by a pack of soldiers. He prefers to travel alone, but ragtag outcasts are drawn to him - and Wales can't bring himself to leave them unprotected.
I guess we all died a little in that damned war.
The Outlaw Josey Wales is directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars as Wales, and is adapted by Sonia Chernus & Phil Kaufman from the novel "The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales" written by Forrest Carter. Joining Eastwood in the cast are Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Bill McKinney, John Vernon & Paula Trueman. Music is by Jerry Fielding and Bruce Surtees photographs on location in Utah, Arizona & Wyoming.
We are at the very end of the American Civil War and Josey Wales is a contented family man working on his Missouri farm. But his peaceful world is shattered when Union soldiers raid his home and murder his wife and child. Surviving the attack, Josey takes up arms with a group of Confederate guerrilla fighters who take the fight to the Redlegs. However, when the news comes that the war is over and the Confederates are required to surrender, Josey refuses to do so. A wise choice since his group are rounded up and slaughtered in cold blood. So Josey is forced to go on the lam as an outlaw, where hot on his trail are the Redleg group fronted by bloodthirsty Captain Terrill. On his way, as he contemplates survival and what life has in store for he and his aggressors, Josey acquires some interesting companions.
Acclaimed by the critics upon its release, The Outlaw Josey Wales is ageing like a fine wine. It's a film Eastwood himself is very proud of, citing it as one of the high points in his career. Yet the film got off to a difficult start. It was originally given to Kaufman to direct with Eastwood's Malpaso company producing, but the star and director fell out over Kaufman's directing style - and that a certain Sondra Locke was turning the heads of both men. As we now know, there was only one winner there.
The story is a classic Western tale, hell it's a powerful tale, one with layers that peel off as the film progresses. Josey Wales starts out a peaceful family man but after having that stripped away from him by violence, he too is forced to take up violence in response. So far so formulaic then. But the film is so much more than just a Western revenge yarn, even if that aspect of the story is darn good as Clint gets mean and broody and pulls his pistols. There's a real strong family thread throughout, from losing his own kin in the beginning - to a father son relationship - and on to the way he acquires a new family on his travels, it's very strong and gives the narrative a real emotional kick. As Josey goes on his way, angry, bitter and prepared to face the consequence of his choices, the character is constantly forming. It was only after a number of viewings that I personally realised that Josey Wales the man was being healed by the ragtag assortment of individuals that he collects on route to his character being rebuilt.
Eastwood the actor here is on fine form, cool and every inch a man's man. But even Eastwood wouldn't decry the scene stealing excellence of Chief Dan George as Lone Watie. His dry wit puts him in the top tier of Western comedy sidekicks, but rest assured the character is more than that. For Watie acts as a sort of spiritual mentor to Wales, and Eastwood reacts positively to George's serene acting to give the film its tight bonded centre. The rest of the cast are a much of a muchness but all serve the story well with solid performances. In fact it's a rare occasion when Locke's vacant method acting actually works well! Eastwood the director is calm, assured and subtle in pacing, with his storytelling boosted considerably by Fielding's popping score and Surtees' gorgeous cinematography. The script is awash with attentive dialogue and punching moments of humour, whilst its noticeable denouncement of violence and intelligent portrayals of the Indians is to be roundly applauded.
Iconography unbound and bulging with class in the writing, The Outlaw Josey Wales is not just one of Eastwoods best Westerns. It's one of the best Westerns period. I reckon so. 10/10