|Outlaw Josey Wales, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 20 November 2001|
You have to hand it to director/star Clint Eastwood. When people think of American-made Westerns of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ is probably exactly what they have in mind -- even if they’ve never seen the movie. Eastwood and writers Phil Kaufman and Sonia Chernus have crafted a quintessential representative of the Western film, even if its plot components seem to be individually interchangeable with countless others in the genre.
Eastwood plays the title character, a previously peaceful Missouri farmer who joins a band of Confederate raiders after his family is killed by rampaging Union men during the Civil War. When the war is over, Josey’s band are tricked into laying down their arms and promptly slaughtered. Josey does what he can to avenge the treachery. A Union Army officer thereupon makes it his mission in life to kill Josey, who tries to head through Texas down to Mexico. Although Josey considers himself a loner, he picks up an odd assortment of fellow travelers, including an old Cherokee man (Chief Dan George) and a comely young lady (Sondra Locke) traveling with her snobbish, fearful grandmother.
Chapter 1 sets the generally high tone of the handsome, widescreen DVD transfer with powerful, foreboding thundering hooves that will shake the room with a proper sound set-up. Chapter 2’s blue-washed montage of battle charges under the opening credits is visually striking and Chapter 14 has some stunning, iconographic shots that have faces silhouetted against near-darkness, lit ingeniously so that it appears we are seeing the characters in the ambient light of a shadowed room. Chapters 21 and 31 provide a variety of gunshots, the loudest of which effectively put us in the center of the shootouts.
‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ contains a healthy assortment of Western traditions: the quiet hero, pushed into implacable violence yet with a soft heart for all those in need; bandits; power-mad officials; colorful, cowardly scam artists; chases on horseback; vivid shoot-outs. The dialogue has some refreshing flourishes, including the wry observation of a politically opportunistic ferry operator that, "In my line of work, you’ve got to be able to sing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and ‘Dixie’ with equal enthusiasm." On the other hand, skillfully as everything is rendered, there’s nothing in ‘Josey Wales’ that doesn’t seem highly familiar. Whether this breeds contempt or comfort is a matter of individual taste.