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Blu-ray Review: The Outlaw Josey Wales

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I cannot claim to be a big fan of westerns, but some are so incredible that they belong in the must-watch pile of any movie lover. It took long time for me to gain an appreciation for the genre, and I am sure in time it will continue to grow. The movie that won me over was Tombstone. Although it is a relatively recent film, we all have to start somewhere, right?

As I have continued to watch more westerns, the one name that always draws me is Clint Eastwood. The man is the prototypical bad ass cowboy. This time around I have found his 1976 film, The Outlaw Josey Wales. I found it to be a good, not great film, interesting but not as involving as I had expected it to be.

Josey Wales is the second western to be directed by Eastwood, after 1973’s High Plains Drifter. This movie sees Eastwood stepping from the shadow of the spaghetti westerns he made with Sergio Leone in the 1960s. Eastwood’s character doesn’t quite live in the grey space of, say, A Fistful of Dollars, but he does retain much of the complexity shown there. Josey Wales is neither good guy nor bad guy. Having lost much of what he values in life, Josey is driven by revenge, and the film chronicles his journey as he tries to regain himself. 

The movie starts with Josey’s wife and young son being brutally murdered while he is unable to do anything. It is a great loss, robbing him of his identity, before we even know what that identity is. With this tragedy in his rear view mirror, he sets out for revenge and death.

Along the way he meets a series  of characters, both good and bad as Josey navigates a changing post-Civil War world. Choosing to be an outlaw rather than swear allegiance next to the men who took his family from him, he would rather welcome death, once his guns are wrenched from his corpse.

What makes this movie interesting is that although he is hunted as an outlaw, killing without conscience, Wales continually attracts people to his side. He doesn’ want them, nor does he really need them, but there they are. Sure, they come and go throughout the film, but there is always someone there, even a dog.

I saw a clip in one of the included featurettes where director Frank Darabont said this was like a western directed by Frank Capra. The Outlaw Josey Wales is not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life. Both Josey Wales and George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) are both courting death and it is family and the love of those around them that keep them going. Sure, Eastwood’s film is grittier, but there are a lot of similarities in their paths. It is certainly interesting to contemplate.

I understand I have not given you many plot details, but, suffice to say it is definitely worth your time with even if you, like me, discover you don’t love it. It portrays an interesting journey undertaken by a broken man, and the atypical choices he makes and the movie takes. It does not follow the conventions and will surely offer up a few surprises.

Plus Chief Dan George is featured as Lone Watie. I love this guy. He brings humor, heart, and insight to the table in this supporting role. The movie is almost worth watching just for him!

Audio/Video. The film is presented in its original ratio of 2.4:1 and it looks fantastic. The colors are sharp, detail is exquisite, and I cannot imagine this movie ever looking better in a home video format. There is no evidence of print damage or wear, I also did not detect any artifacts or other digital issues. Noise reduction is non-existent/minimal and film grain is evident, this is a good thing. I always prefer my movies to have some grain, even in a digital format I want my movies to look like film. This looks like a movie, it has that dated look that fits the material. I cannot point to one definitive seen, but as you watch you are sure to notice the great detail in the landscapes and in the close-ups of Clint’s face.

The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and it does a fine job. It is not the most involving of mixes, but I cannot say that is a bad thing. After all, this is a movie from the 1970’s, it cannot be expected to envelope the use like a modern release. Still, the dialogue is rendered nicely, front and center and always crisp and clear. There is a nice explosiveness in the gunfights as the gunshots pack some punch, and the score is given nice reign of the soundfield allowing it shine nicely without overpowering the dialogue.

Extras. The disk comes housed in a digi-book case that contains some nice photos from the film accompanied by columns looking back on the film, Eastwood and his other western highlights.

  • Commentary. This track features Richard Schickel, Clint Eastwood’s biographer. It is an interesting track, if a touch dry, filled with facts and background information on the production and on Eastwood.
  • Clint Eastwood’s West. I enjoyed this. It takes a look at Clint as the quintessential cowboy and looks at his body of work in the genre.
  • Hell Hath No Fury – The Making of The Outlaw Josey Wales. This featurette is narrated by John Milius and goes into nice detail on the making of the film.
  • Eastwood in Action. This is a vintage piece that does not offer a lot of information but does have some interesting behind the scenes footage from the shoot.
  • Theatrical Trailer. The original trailer for the film.

Bottomline. Eastwood’s best western? Not by a long shot. However, it is a good one and delivers a character with a fascinating arc in a movie that is not your typical western. No one can command the screen with a stare the way Eastwood can.

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