Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 31 - The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) directed by Clint Eastwood

Clint effing Eastwood. The Man with No Name, Bill Munny and now, the outlaw Josey Wales. Okay, before I get ahead of myself, Josey Wales is not in the same caliber as the No Name trilogy or Unforgiven, but very few are.

The Outlaw Josey Wales has the set up of a revenge flick as we see Josey, a peaceful Missouri farmer, watch his family murdered in front of him by Union soldiers during the Civil War. He joins up with a Confederate rebel militia to fight with the notion of one day getting his revenge against the evil Captain Terrill that killed his family. Then there is a rather long montage of the war with that classic marching/ battle tune with trumpets and drums and repetitive and annoyingly loud gunfire. Didn't do it for me. Anyways, some time has passed and Josey Wales' outfit is offered amnesty by the Union Army, who as the average American probably doesn't know, won the Civil War. Still bitter, Josey is the only one who doesn't surrender. However, he does get to watch his former compadres get tricked and ultimately massacred by the blue coats. Extra points for the revenge factor. Josey tries to intervine by commandeering a gatling gun and mows down a bunch of the bad guys. Now Josey must live on the run as an outlaw as he is hunted by the blue coats and bounty hunters.

However, after that initial scene of his family dying, you never really do get the sense of injustice or anger in Josey. He, like Eastwood's famous Man with No Name character, is a taciturn individual leaving the viewer to try to guess his moods. It works in the No Name trilogy because that character already is who he is, he's thrust into situations without really needing to build his character. His actions speak for themselves. But in TOJW, Josey's stoic demeanor and silence doesn't help sympathize himself to the people around him or to the viewer. By the time you get to the middle of this long movie, you almost forget why he was so mad in the first place.

With both his actual and adopted families dead and gone, Josey doesn't have much time to reflect on his losses. He must live on the run as a drifter and loner, but slowly reconnects to humanity through the chance encounters he has along the way. First he meets a wily old Indian, played by Chief Dan George, who is unexpectedly hilarious. Along the way they add more people to their posse, a Navajo girl, an elderly woman and her granddaughter. Despite being a loner, Josey unwittingly becomes the leader and father figure of the group. Maybe now he can finally be at peace, but whatever momentary quiet they can find is always in jeopardy as Josey is still a wanted fugitive.

Eastood obviously has a stupendous screen presence as his mere scowl is enough to get grown men peeing in their pants. He plays Josey with a quiet determination similar to his Man with No Name, though there is much more room here for comedic elements. He has a lot of good funny interactions with Chief Dan George and has a bunch of quotables including gems like "Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?" One odd mannerism I'm not sure if meant to be humorous or to convey toughness is his trademark tobacco spit. He spits on everything, the floor, insects, dead folks, live folks and even a poor old dog (two or three times, for you PETA guys).

I'm not sure if it is the quality of the transfer on the DVD or if it was just filmed that way but the interior and night shots in this film are way too dark, to the point of being pitch black at times. You can barely see shapes moving across the screen. The shots of the western landscape, however, are very nicely done. It's amazing how beautiful a barren and dusty desert and look with a picturesque blue sky in the backdrop.

TOJW was sort of an uneven experience for me. It seemed to drag on forever in the first third, but once Josey meets up with the Indian, it picks up pretty fast. There is also the aforementioned revenge angle which I feel didn't have the impact it should have had. Also, most of the characters don't have much depth if any at all. In fact, most are stock characters. On the other hand... it's actually kind of hard to come up with an 'on the other hand' aside from Clint effing Eastwood. This film doesn't have any particularly weak points, making for a steady and relatively smooth ride, but there isn't really anything that jumps out as being remarkable.

Grade: B-

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