The Outlaw Josey Wales Review

Neither a nameless beast nor an atypical musing on the Western, the eponymous Josey Wales sees director Clint Eastwood turn his hand and charm to a significantly different leading role. Up until this point, the recognisable star of spaghetti westerns had been a cool character, with barely a name to cling to as he pistol-whipped bandits and outlaws. The Outlaw Josey Wales puts a name to the deeds of a man wishing for a quieter life. It makes all the difference when adding a layer of perceived vulnerability to a leading powerhouse, and it works well here in this Eastwood-led Civil War-set western. But this feature needs that vulnerability. It steps beyond what is expected of the action hero. 

The Outlaw Josey Wales is not just the revenge cycle of outlaws killing outlaws, but a beautifully worked feature. It elicits tones and styles that are similar yet aimless in later features from Eastwood. Eastwood tears at the emotional structure of the typical western stylings, making a truly poetic film about avenging loved ones and dealing with the consequences of such shattering goals. He still muses on the grief and comfort of religion, but lesser so than Pale Rider. It would take him almost a decade to make a western guided by religious upheaval and imagery, but the balance is off there. The Outlaw Josey Wales expresses its desires and its faith through action alone, as the lone gunman puts himself to good use and tries to make amends with the family he lost and the grief he has gained.  

That is shown with beauty. A nondescript styling that first introduces the character as clumsy and out of practice, much like that of William Munny from Unforgiven. He cannot aim straight and is saddened and dejected not just by his loss but his perceived uselessness as a man. The Outlaw Josey Wales shines not just as an articulate viewing of grief, but a bloodbath of typically incredible western proportions. Gatling guns hidden in tents, a scurry for cover and a quick flash of brilliant action tides over audiences who want this film to pack more of a punch. That it does, but it makes sure to pad its time with wistful moments of contemplation. Eastwood gets the balance just right, and it not only adds that expected layer to his leading character, but to the corrupt world around him. He is another corrupt piece of this location, but he is, for a time, above the rest. 

If Eastwood’s intention is to show how revenge can corrupt fairly honest hearts, then The Outlaw Josey Wales works rather well. Typical intentions of the western genre are mused on but moved away from fairly rapidly to coerce a surprising level of detail in this civil war-themed story. It is still the gun-toting violence audiences can usually expect from this era of Eastwood, but added to it is a historical sensibility, a character whose dynamic is based on death and the placidity that comes from revenge. He is not a moral man, but what character is in this finely-tuned western? 

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