Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood
Josey Wales is the quintessential Western, and what’s more it has a back story, which is so often forgotten in the genre. Usually it’s just a town, a man, a family, a cabin, a journey, a bounty, something of that nature, but Josey Wales adds all elements together, but not before introducing us to the main character in a way that’s not often exhibited. That’s what makes this such a special Western; the time taken to teach us about this flawed hero, to progress him through a personal history, then to submerge him in the guns-blazing action we’re accustomed to. This is the definition of a classic, and it doesn’t seem to age at all.
As the Civil War comes to an end, guerilla warfare still rages along the border states, and Missourian Josey Wales sees his house destroyed, his wife & son murdered, and his life altered by a a group of Union soldiers who Confederates see as nothing more than savages & pillagers. With nothing else to live for, Josey chooses revenge, and joins up with a Rebel band who take the unruly fight to the North. But the war ends, even Josey’s unit is forced to surrender, and he becomes an outlaw, a hunted man on the run from foe & former friend. He finds himself on an adventure across the United States, meeting a variety of folks, as he violently tries to escape the horrors of the past.
You could make a case that, especially knowing what we know about Eastwood now, this film is a little “South apologetic”, a little “the good ol’ boys just wanted to be left alone”, and that’s problematic. But, also, this is fiction, this is a character, if he was pushed toward killing, if he’s a flawed hero, if he fought for the South, those are all just elements of something made up, and looking at it from that point of view helps you see a Western done right, even if it may also be a Western done Right. I remember this movie from my younger days, I loved it then for what it did correctly, and I appreciate it now for the same reason; it didn’t change, age, or spring leaks. Josey Wales is a great example of its genre, but even better than most, with more story, more character, more movement, and with an epic story well-told.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆