Clint Eastwood is not the usual type of actor – he is always reserved, always inclined more to action than to words. Probably that is why the fact that he directed many of the greatest films in which he played remains often unnoticed. He is one intelligent actor/director it can be said, and this is because he lets the movies speak for themselves.
Such a masterpiece (if one man could have more than one) is The Outlaw Josey Wales, in which Clint Eastwood proposes yet again a different kind of western story. The actor assumes again the traits that made his characters famous: the loner and the self-exiled are reunited again in the Josey Wales persona.
He is a southerner that refused to surrender. After his friends were killed in cold blood by Northern troops, he took revenge by killing everybody with a Gatling gun. He now becomes a fugitive from the law. He is the kind of character you wouldn’t want to meet.
But the difference with this movie is that it adds another western cliché (which under Eastwood’s direction receives a different symbolism), that of the group of people that pushes the frontier further in the west. And what happens usually in westerns when the outlaw loner meets the group?
Usually the fight commences. But this isn’t the case with The Outlaw Josey Wales, in which Clint Eastwood’s character becomes the leader of the group. We see the rules of the western changing yet again under this director in a way that contradicted the history of the genre.
The group grows in numbers, despite the fact that the bounty hunters are always on Josey Wales’s trail. Clint Eastwood (much like in any number of his movies) dispatches them all with ease. As said before, even if the character is a rather silent one, he lets his guns speak (just like he says in the movie, actually).
The symbolism I was mentioning earlier is not one that references the fighting, but one that talks about the family (in the larger sense of the word). The Outlaw Josey Wales isn’t as much about the North vs. South, nor about the harsh life on the frontier. It is more about the strength of finding companions when least expected.
The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of Clint Eastwood’s favorite movies, as he said more than once. Furthermore, the film can be seen as one of his best westerns, alongside Unforgiven, particularly because he changes the rules of the game.