Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) was a simple farmer before the Civil War came, his family was murdered and his house was burned down. Having lost everything, Wales joins a band of guerilla fighters to attack the Union soldiers. But as the war ends, the outlaws are offered amnesty - Josey refuses, and becomes one of the only survivors of his party when they are brutally gunned down under the orders of Terrill (Bill McKinney), the very man who killed his family. Escaping with a young ally (Sam Bottoms), Wales is hunted down across the land as he heads for Texas...
The big budget, Hollywood western was a dying breed by the time The Outlaw Josey Wales came out, yet for some fans it's the best western of its era. A shamelessly epic, beautifully photgraphed adventure, it was scripted by Sonia Chernus and Philip Kaufman; Kaufman was to have directed, but creative differences meant that Eastwood replaced him early on. The result played down the overtly political angle while underlining the human side of proceedings: as Wales continues on his journey, he picks up more and more of outsiders until he has effectively gained a replacement family.
The most memorable of his companions is Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) a displaced Indian Chief who is wandering the country after losing his way of life to the encroaching whites. He provides a nice line in humour that grows as the film progresses, explaining that he didn't surrender, but they took his horse and it surrendered instead. Then, one by one, other rejected members of the violent society join Wales, from an abused Indian woman to a grandmother and granddaughter (Sondra Locke), pilgrims who have been attacked by bandits and lost everything.
It's ironic that while the United States struggle to be united, with old grudges dying hard and an atmosphere of revenge and plunder ever present, the party of misfits who orbit around Wales show that a diverse selection of citizens can live together in harmony when they find they have something in common, even if it's simply being victims. Those who have been killers during the war stay killers, either as the law or as bounty hunters, and everyone left in the middle is in trouble.
If anything, the film is over indulgent, taking its time to relish the character stuff when picking up the pace might have resulted in a more exciting experience. Wales not only saves unlucky folk, but becomes a blood brother to a fierce Indian warrior and a legend in his own lifetime as his story is passed around by word of mouth. Yet Eastwood and the scriptwriters broaden the qualities of his iconic Man With No Name persona, humanising and making him the protector of the disenfranchised, and The Outlaw Josey Wales benefits from that attention without disrespecting the character. Music by Jerry Fielding.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys and American Sniper to his name.