Western Watchins #100
The Outlaw Josey Wales is a fantastic film. It’s sweeping, humorous and meaningfully heavy. It’s every reason movies exist. A challenging pleasure every time I watch though it’s not my favorite Western, not in my top 5 and maybe not my top 10. It’s not even my favorite Clint Eastwood offering in the genre. Yet, it’s one of the dearest films I will ever know for a few reasons. For starters it’s a revenge flick. Josey Wales was a farmer and family man whose farm and family became collateral damage during the twilight of Lincoln’s War. Hard to stay at home content with wife and child when your wife gets raped and your child burned alive in the name of keeping the Union together. Sounds despicable but William Tecumseh Sherman has a tank named after him for reveling in such degradation. Long before mechanized infantry however, men took their misery and the soothing thereof literally into their own hands. Covering the flesh of their fingers and the depths of their souls with the blood of those that done them wrong. Josey joins a Southern militia but once they’re double crossed it’s just him against the world. Him and all his guns that is.
Clint’s compliment in this movie would make The Punisher jealous. He’s got big guns and small guns and every other goddamn gun. He even gets to use a Gatling and a Sharps. The Sharps he uses twice. Once, to send some varmints on his tail for a little boat ride with a shot of several yards as the original designer surely intended and then later on with an up close “fuck your mom in the ass” kind of shot. It’s called that because the dude Clint pops from 10 feet away, with a sniper rifle shot from the hip, gets fucked so hard even his momma knows it! Knows it in her ass! Such is the might of retribution in the hands of Josey Wales. Besides burning black powder, another thing Josey is great at is opening doors. This door:
All doors dude! It would almost be comical, the way thresholds bend over and grab their ankles for him, if it wasn’t so badass. Long before the first supermarket, Josey Wales seemingly invented automatic doors. It’s as if his manliness produces an unseen shockwave that clears the way for him and announces, it case you hadn’t been listening, that everything’s about to change for the Josey. That is, if’n you ain’t with the Josey, you’re against him. And if you’re against him, that taste in your mouth is your own balls because Josey just strangled you to death with your scrotum. Terms like “brutal” and “unflinching” come to mind along with sentences like “I want to be him when I grow up” and “that’s not weird that I’ve been hard since the opening credits is it?”
No, no it’s not.
The Outlaw Josey Wales moves you to reach deeper than the red hot hate burning in both your heart our hero’s. Revenge can’t be avoided at times, but neither should redemption be. My hands have held both “fuck you” and forgiveness so I can relate. Life is balance and this movie balances grief with guffaws better than most any I’ve seen. You begin with this:
But before long you somehow or another end up here:
Much of that is owed to Clint’s directing. High Plains Drifter predates Josey Wales by three years and is the finest of fucking films but as much as I adore the former I must acknowledge that Clint had masterfully come in to his own with the latter. Wales is both epic and intimate as it looks across deserts or into one man’s sadly scarred heart.
Another reason this film must be considered damn near perfect is due to the ever growing ensemble that surrounds Josey. An Indian, an old lady homesteader and her daughter, a few inhabitants of a forlorn almost ghost town and one dog. He treats them all with aggravated acceptance. They treat him to reminders that once he gets even he can get on with living again and maybe even happily at that. Chief among these folks is Chief Dan George.
He plays Lone Watie, a once proud Native who finds in the strength of an angry stranger a reason to be proud once more. Much of his performance will make you laugh, some of it will make you think and one reminiscence in particular will bring quiet tears to your eyes. All of Josey’s supporting cast have an immeasurable impact on the feeling of this film. This gut-wrenched gunslinger ultimately faces his destiny by himself but that doesn’t mean he’s alone. Good thing when it’s four on one.
Well four on two, as Lone Watie rips through one of these dudes easier than alcohol and baccarat have through his descendants but I digress. Look at these blue bellied bitches! They’re all like “you’ll see, once we go and win this here ‘Civil War’ our country won’t never again be at odds over state’s rights, civil liberties or the fact that Honest Abe wants to send every black person (look it up kids!) back to Africa!” Well the three on the left are thinking that. The guy on the right is wondering if he’s Jason Stackhouse. No matter anyway, I mean I’m not ruining anything when I allude to the obvious fact that Josey will not be hindered in any way from seeing retribution paid in full by one Captain “Redlegs” Terrill.
What a bastard. He doesn’t get much screen-time and when he does says little, so he’s sort of a “Bruce the shark” kind of bad guy. He gave Josey that tear down his face and gave the order to burn his life to the ground. He’s rarely there but damn near omnipresent, sweating vinegar like the personified douche bag he so is. He’s the purpose of all Josey’s pain and the reason this movie even moves forward. But in this film as in life, curb stomping your enemies, as gloriously comforting and goddamn necessary every now and then as it is, cannot be the final measure of any man.
Hear me amigos, loud and true, that there are those in this world today I’d not extend a helping hand toward were their deviant lives hanging off a fucking cliff. I am brutal and I am base. But I am the converse as well. Just this week I reached out to an old friend turned villain for going on half a decade now. We spoke candidly and found peace. In humility, with apologies, both sides found new life in the friendship. I am not beyond a curbstomp, but I’m not adverse to a warm embrace either. The Outlaw Josey Wales has one of the best parlays ever to be put to film, one that perfectly illustrates my point.
He shares a few words with Ten Bears. More importantly he shares his heart. Never have I seen a man so fatigued and still so fierce. Honest about the outcome, Josey carries a confidence into the conversation his exhaustion might otherwise betray. If for no other reason watch the movie for this scene and know that as ready as fists are to take up arms in the pursuit of death they are just as ready to take your hand in the pursuit of life.
Fantastic fuckin’ film.
All the anger and all the absolution, all of it, leads to 6 of my best rounds ever in the cylinder for The Outlaw Josey Wales. But this one gets a few more too. 21 in fact, all for an old Navy submariner I knew. You see, in the back of a Perkins’ parking lot my new father in law Nick, minted only 48 hours prior, took me quietly aside and with watery eyes he looked at his daughter, then to me with hopeful ones. He said four of the most important words I will ever hear:
“Take care of her.”
Took a moment to say, it’ll take a lifetime of moments to honor. I married Angie after knowing her for under six months and that was after dumping my girlfriend/fiancee of seven years. I was better at being risky than responsible. Now years later, Nick has passed and the upstairs drain is probably clogged, our only car (a fabulous Honda Element) is about to turn over 300,000 miles and our plans of moving out to Arizona are bolstered by little more than wings and prayers.
But that might be all we need.
There’s a line as Josey come across an old woman at a critical junction in his journey and she greets him with “so, you’ll be the Josey Wales!” It was Nick’s favorite line from one of Nick’s favorite movies. It’s as much a question as it is the answer and deeper than you’d might’n suspect. It’s a commission too. Josey had and lost then had again. All the while jumping headlong and headstrong into just about every circumstance that came his way. He was skilled no doubt, but lucky too and more than anything, determined. “Determined”. That word’ll kick you in the balls as soon as pick you up off the floor. It harrowed and humbled me to think that a man I’d just met would entrust the most precious thing in his life to my untested hands. Thirteen years later I turned 40 and keep getting older every day with no marketable skills to speak of at my disposal. Hell I tried to write this review going on a week before I deleted it all and started fresh tonight. I got trouble eeking out a few thousand words what the fuck am I doing reaching for the stars?
I’ll tell you amigo.
And I will get there.
For myself and best of all, for her. For my wife. For my Angie. Josey Wales ran into a lot of shit, a lot of the times woefully unprepared, but always managed to give more than he got. And that’s what I’m willing to do across the board and in so many ways. Ready or not, Angie and I build a wonderful life together every single day. I can hear Nick even now saying the last thing he ever said to me as he lay dying in a cold hospital bed. He looked over to me at the end of his cognizance and so close to the end of his life. He looked at me, smiled, and said “you’ll be the Josey Wales!”
Yeah Pop, I reckon so.