The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Chief Dan George, Bill McKinney
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Theatrcal Trailer, Booklet

Clint Eastwood is a man of many talents and as an actor he has become absolutely iconoclastic in two very different genres. His action-thriller Dirty Harry character is still one of the toughest cops around, and his portrayal of the Man Without Name remains one of the most memorable Western heroes. Nevertheless the actor and director never really treaded in the same paths, repeating himself too often. Ever so regularly he plays with the genres he prefers to work in, and adds new facets to characters he played before. "Absolute Power" is such an example in the thriller genre and "Unforgiven" is clearly the one in which he almost reversed the perception of his best-known Western characters. But even "The Outlaw Josey Wales," which he made a long time before maturing to do "Unforgiven," is also a perfect example for the progression in Eastwood's work and how he bent genre stereotypes and expectations to create movie that surprise as much as they surprise. Although he conjures up the image of the lightning fast gunslinger once again in this film, this time around he has a name, a heart and true motivations, all three elements hardly found in the spaghetti westerns that made him the star that he is.

Helplessly, farmer Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) has to watch as his wife is raped and killed and his little son is burned to death inside the family's house, when ravaging red-leg soldiers invade and destroy the family idyll out of nowhere, during the Civil War. Josey, the only survivor of the massacre becomes an avenger and joins a band of Southern rebels who keep up the fight against the Yankees and oppose the newly founded union. Slowly however, their time seems to come to an end. The troops of the new United States Of America hunt down everyone who does not swear an oath to serve and protect the country.

When his rebel companions decide to lay down their arms and surrender, Josey becomes one of the last outlaws of the West. With the army in his back, he tries to escape their reach and flees deep into Indian territory, but a group of soldiers keep hunting him relentlessly. The only way to put an end to this hunt is to oppose them, but that turns out to only leverage the price on his head and attracts bounty hunters from across the country.

In this seemingly hopeless situation, Josey Wales meets Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), a Cherokee Indian, who himself is rather disappointed by the way the American government treated him. Together they try to find a way to safety and peace where, hopefully, the rest of the world will forget about them.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" might look like one of Eastwood's early European Westerns by the cover, but it soon becomes evident that this gunslinger has more heart and identity than his previous characters. Establishing a strong motivation for Josey within the first few minutes of the film, Clint Eastwood's character is always sympathetic. No matter what he does, no matter how bad he becomes and no matter how cold he acts, the viewer can always relate to him. Not only does it make the character more believable, it also creates a much stronger moment of drama when Josey seems to lose ground to the posse that hunts him.

Eastwood's rooted and natural play also adds immensely to the character's overall credibility. It always surprises me how comfortably Eastwood seems to handle the different tasks on his films. He is doing a great job directing his movies and capturing the essence of what viewers want to see, while he also routinely puts in great performances as one of the leading characters in his own movies.

But also in other areas the film hardly works with established clichés, as his early films did all too easily. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is one of the few films of its time that portrayed Indians as a soulful people who have lost their ground and most of their hope. Not only does the film away with the gruesome image of the bloodthirsty Indian killing sprees, it actually establishes proud and honest characters like Ten Bears and Lone Watie. In fact, Lone Watie has some of the funniest and veritable lines in the entire film. He becomes Josey's conscience and helps driving the story home.

Just as in his other Westerns, the photography plays a very important role in this film. Panoramic shots establish a feeling of grandeur. Using colors efficiently, the film contains some spectacular framing techniques that vastly increase the visual impact the film has on the viewers. At the same time, atmospheric interior shots and efficient use of backlit photography creates a strong visual contrast between characters, almost serving as individual visual cues for each of them.

Clint Eastwood's films are classics and it is great to see them treated with the respect they deserve. Warner Home Video has created a beautiful high definition transfer of the film for this Blu-Ray release to mark the film's 35th Anniversary. The image is absolutely clean and clear, without any blemishes or notable grain. The level of detail is wonderfully bringing to life all the subtle nuances of the production and photography with incredible definition and sharply defined edges. Night time shots are bold and feature deep shadows but never break up in any way or fashion.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" contains a DTS track that works quite well. It is not nearly as aggressive as modern mixes, but still makes decent use of the discrete surround channels and creates some active surround effects. Although the soundtrack is quite old, it never sounds thin as many other tracks of the time and also doesn't exhibit the often found artificially sounding dialogs.

Jerry Fielding composed the engrossing score for "The Outlaw Josey Wales". It is a score that is as complex as it is intriguing. Fielding oftentimes uses dissonance to add drama to the film's scenes without ever overstating them, always keeping the texture at a level that works almost subliminally. He also uses percussion instruments a lot as the basis for his score and makes efficient use of the traditional instruments to create a feel of the great outdoors.

A brand new commentary track, featuring Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, is included on this disc as he elaborates upon the movie, its production, the background and many other aspects in quite some detail. While scholarly in nature, the track nonetheless remains light enough to entertain.

Also included is a brand new featurette called "Clint Eastwood's West," along with two vintage featurettes that were released previously, "Hell Hath No Fury" about the making of the movie, and "Eastwood in Action." All of them offer additional insight into the background of the film, as well as Clint Eastwood as an actor and director.

The movie's theatrical trailer is also included. This release is a Blu-Ray Book and as such, you will also find a magnificent 32-page full color booklet in the release, featuring still images and publicity shots as it looks back at the movie and Eastwood's career with a series of essays.

The disc also contains a number of background information and liner notes as well as an unbelievably large number of trailers I gave up counting them after I had reached 14.

You can never have too much Eastwood, I say, and I will always cherish a release of any of his films. Presenting "The Outlaw Josey Wales" here in high definition with cool extras and the wonderful booklet, makes this a definite collectible for me and probably many other fans. With this release, you just can't go wrong.