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THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Bill McKinney, John Vernon
Director:  Clint Eastwood
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  136 Minutes
Release Date:  August 1, 2000, as part of The Clint Eastwood Collection

Film **1/2

At the beginning of The Outlaw Josey Wales, we are introduced to the title character (Eastwood), a simple southern farmer who has his home destroyed and family murdered by a band of Unionists.  Some two and a quarter hours later, Wales gets to confront the man who led the raid that left his face scarred and family dead.  In between those two pivotal scenes is a lot of filler.

As a director, Eastwood is in top form here, and shows he learned a thing or two from his Italian master, Sergio Leone.  Shot after shot is expertly set up and crafted, the landscape is beautifully, almost lovingly photographed, and the scope widescreen image is never wasted, as action is always carefully constructed across the field of view for maximum effect.  Eastwood’s confidence is praiseworthy, and I greatly admired the technique involved in this movie from beginning to end.  What I wished for was a better story to go along with it.

After his tragedy, Wales joins up with a group of renegade rebels, fighting the Civil War until it ends.  His group surrenders, but he doesn’t, leading to the manhunt that is supposed to be the backbone of the picture.  I say supposed to be, because for long periods of time, the hunters are nowhere to be seen, and frankly, completely forgotten more than once.

Wales is now the outlaw of the title, and tries to ride alone, but finds various companions along the way, from an elderly Indian (George) to a beautiful settler (Locke), who amazingly manages to keep a dress virginal white despite the dusty and dirty terrain.

In between the story’s bookends, what unfolds is episodic, with one scene not having much to do with the next.  There are many gunfights along the way, each unfolding in the same clichéd manner…bad guys miss, good guys hit, and win, no matter how many opponents.  It gets a bit old, but an even worse bit of running business is Wales’ habit of spitting tobacco juice on anything and everything that will sit still.

In the end, the characters are way too broadly sketched, and the story too distracted, to produce what I would consider a quality evening’s entertainment.  The craft is certainly admirable, but the final product simply falls a bit short. 

Video ***

This is a beautiful anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros., who has produced some of the best looking 70’s movies on disc so far, including Deliverance and Excalibur.  The cinematography is one of the picture’s biggest plusses, and it’s breathtakingly rendered, with amazing sharpness and detail and excellent natural coloring.  Save for some darker shots that soften up a bit and lose detail, there are no other complaints to be had…set your player for 1:16 into the film for a particularly beautiful, crisp, detailed image.  The print is also mostly free from aging wear and tear:  nicks and scars are kept to a minimal.  Throw in for good measure a well placed and non-distracting layer switch, and you have a quality digital transfer all around.

Audio ***

This is a lively 5.1 audio transfer, with plenty of gunplay scenes that demonstrate a terrific sense of staging, particularly in the front to back and diagonal crossing.  Only a few quieter moments serve to remind of the film’s age, where the dialogue comes across a bit thin (though perfectly clear) compared to the action sequences.  The .1 channel is used sparingly, but to good effect, and the rear channels, when not part of the foreground action, offer subtle background noises for dimension. 

Features **

The disc contains some production notes and a mother load of TEN different trailers for various Warner westerns (not specified on the box).

Summary:

The Outlaw Josey Wales is simply the case of a confident, talented director in charge of a rather unfocused story.  Though I found much to applaud about Eastwood’s masterful crafting, I can’t say that overall I’m a big fan of this film.  Those who are, however, should be delighted by the top notch transfer on this DVD, and will no doubt find this disc a worthy entry into The Clint Eastwood Collection.