The Outlaw Josey Wales

Josey Wales looks stoic with two pistols in The Outlaw Josey Wales

“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

The Western is a genre as old as film, and for a long time it remained the same, with clearly defined good guys and bad guys who fought for good and evil. The 60s brought about a revolution in Westerns by introducing antiheroes and sympathetic villains, as in Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti” Westerns. By the 70s, the classic Western was mostly dead and the genre was ready to look at some new interesting characters. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, and Sondra Locke, The Outlaw Josey Wales gives us one such interesting character: an outlaw who hates a corrupt government and fights on the wrong side of history. He’s still a very sympathetic and admirable character, but had this plot been used 20 years prior, he would have been the villain. The film also featured sympathetic and respectful portrayals of Native Americans—something very rare for Westerns of the time (and something I very much appreciated, since I’m a Native American). This is far from the classic Westerns, but it’s definitely one of the best Westerns that I’ve seen.

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Bill Bunny and Ned Logan in Unforgiven

“Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

Even after the classic Western was replaced by the revisionist Western, there were some romantic and, frankly, false notions about the old West floating around in the 90s. Notions that heroes acted with honor, sheriffs were the good guys, and gunslingers were unstoppable bad-asses with superhuman aiming ability. Unforgiven, directed by Western legend Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby) and starring Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman, shattered those notions. Justice was determined by who was willing to pay for it. A hero who wanted to stay alive wouldn’t pass up a chance to shoot an enemy in the back. And, perhaps most strikingly, old gunslingers weren’t these invincible superheroes. This is a very well-written modern Western that’s both a deconstruction of and an homage to the genre and it’s a great watch.

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