'The Outlaw Josey Wales' Review: Are You Gonna Pull Those Pistols or Whistle Dixie?
We've begun Westerns month here at Kulture Shocked, and this is probably the one genre that I haven't seen a large quantity of films in. For most of the films I'm reviewing this month, it will be a first viewing. It's our first written review. I won't pretend that I'm a lover of westerns, but the chance to see Clint Eastwood be an ornery young man is always fun, plus I really haven't seen many of his older movies.
The Outlaw Josey Wales follows Josey Wales (Eastwood) as he is on the run from the Union after the Civil War. His family is murdered by some Union soldiers at the onset of the film, which spurs his need for vengeance and eventual outlaw status. The plot is very straightforward, with little in the form of narrative trickery. The fact that the Union is portrayed as the antagonists is bizarre just based on historical context, but Josey is relatively progressive, all things considered.
The film deals with the themes of loss and acceptance. Josey originally is on the run alone, but he eventually is joined by comrades (usually those he saves while on the run), led by Lon Watie, played by real life Native American chief, Dan George, who provides the film's occasional humor. Josey wants mostly to be alone to mourn the loss of his wife and child, but each additional member to his crew helps him release that burden, and deals with loss in an interesting way. Despite Josey piling up the body count, you never get the feeling that he is a willing killer. It's more of a survival instinct that is inherent to the wild west, and he's just the best at it. Saving others helps him recollect those lost pieces of his humanity that burned with his family.
My primary issue with the film is that it's repetitive. After the opening montage, the film boils down to Josey being hunted down, killing people that are after him, and adding new people to his crew, over and over until the final shootout. I wasn't expecting a narrative masterpiece, but the film does become occasionally tedious towards the middle, and picks up at the end. The handling of Native Americans is pretty positive in the film, with Josie seeing them as equals despite being a Confederate fighter. The gun fights are adequate, but didn't really provide a "wow" factor other than a couple of cool tricks, because it was made in 1976.
Ultimately, The Outlaw Josey Wales is a film dealing with loss disguised as a western. A solid performance by the always stoic Clint Eastwood makes the movie watchable, and while far from a masterpiece, it is an interesting take on the western genre.
Final Say: Watch It