Monday, 15 July 2019

Reflections on "The Outlaw Josey Wales"

Reflections on “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

Written by Phil Kaufman and Sonia Chernus from the book by Forrest Carter

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George and Sondra Locke

A video presentation of this material is available here.

“The Outlaw Josey Wales” is something of a revisionist western in two parts. The first part is a grim and realistic representation of war and its horrifying, painful and unjust consequences.

Josey Wales is a simple farmer going about his business when his wife and child are brutally violated and murdered, and his property is destroyed by an unruly group of Unionist soldiers known as “redlegs” under the command of a Captain Terrill. Josey survives the attack and joins a group of rebel soldiers who have presumably suffered similar fates and who seek to avenge themselves, leading to further violence, death, destruction and undoubtedly further injustices.

Eventually, when the rebel cause is all but extinguished, Josey’s compadres, exhausted and demoralised, are persuaded to surrender to Unionist forces but they are betrayed, mocked and massacred by ambitious and unprincipled officers and men, including Captain Terrill, who will not be held accountable for their actions. Josey manages to rescue a young but gravely wounded friend, Jamie.

Josey is declared an outlaw by the complicit Unionist authorities in order to protect their positions and to justify their actions. By manipulating facts, fabricating stories and exaggerating rumour, they hope to incite the interest and greed of bounty hunters and gunmen, but they also help create a figure of legend or myth in the process.

After a series of adventures in which our two heroes outwit their pursuers, imply criticism of merchants whose sole objective is to make profit from both sides of the conflict, and kill a couple of bounty hunters who reduce everything to the financial value of their prey, young Jamie dies and Josey heads for Texas in the full knowledge he will be pursued and he will have no recourse to reason, justice or honour.

Under the auspices of war, terrible crimes may be committed. One of the central and recurring themes of the film is that those who do not respect rules of engagement or common human decency on or off the battlefield cannot hide behind the uniform, cause or legitimacy of their faction. Atrocities carry personal responsibility and guilt and may incur personal enmity and a desire for retribution. War cannot be viewed as giving free rein – one remains responsible for one’s conduct and the consequences that may entail.

The second part of the film starts with Josey’s encounter with an ageing native American played by Chief Dan George. The rain, grime and melancholy of the war scenes gradually give way to brightness, lightness of tone and no small amount of humour.

Although far from free from his past, Josey does not dwell on it – it is there but he is able to focus on the present. As he crosses Texas, he encounters and attracts a number of “strays”, people whose lives have gone awry for a variety of reasons and whom Josey is able to help or defend from profiteering or threat, giving him purpose and a means of living with the past.

Josey appears unafraid. He is willing to face and accept death as a consequence of his actions but he will not shrink from defending those under threat. He has no fear of, or automatic respect for those who claim authority. He has seen that policies, positions and laws are all man-made and may be self-serving or open to interpretation, abuse or corruption. He is ready and willing to defend himself and others if such is the case.

The group he gathers round him is disparate and diverse (long before this recent trend in Hollywood) – culture, race, creed and age appear to be immaterial as they unite to combat common enemies or help one another in a time of need or peril. They become a family of sorts. They may bicker and disagree at times but they are willing to overlook foibles, idiosyncrasies and the past as they pull together to help one another build a new life and resolve problems.

As demonstrated in the discussions between Josey and Ten Bears, an Indian chief who is equally willing to defend himself and his followers, they seek to live in peace and harmony which, it is suggested, appears possible if negotiations are left to ordinary men and women as opposed to governments or figures driven by political ambition, commercial enterprise or greed.

Society is what we make of it or, alternatively, what we allow it to become. As reasonable and peace-loving citizens, we must be willing to defend ourselves and those who share common purpose against those willing to impose their will on us or disrespect us. There is therefore a sense of satisfaction, completion and hope when Captain Terrill gets his karmic comeuppance, allowing Josey to put the injustices of the past to rest and focus on the present and the future.

This is something of a deceptive film – I remember going to see it on its release, expecting an entertaining Eastwood action film, and indeed there are several exciting action set-pieces but it is also a film of surprising depth, texture and engagement. Clint Eastwood clearly wanted to depict the horrors of war and the shattering lasting effects it has on individuals, but he balances that with a tale of stoicism, hope, positivity and society in the face of opposition and difficulty, man-made or natural. This is undoubtedly a highlight in his directing career. He retains the classic Eastwood elements of over-the-top confrontation, audience complicity and focus on the taciturn hero’s communication through long, meaningful looks, but these elements are complemented by close attention to atmosphere, sympathetic secondary characters and performances, the unlikely inclusion of humour and the appeal of an underpinning “message” about war, trauma, justice and the importance of society, which is accessible to us all.

My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Reflections on "Untouchable" (2011)

Reflections on “Untouchable” (2011)

Written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

Starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy

In memory of my friend, Alfie

A video presentation of this material is available here.

The opening scene encapsulates the film’s dynamic and provides insight into the character and relationship of the principal characters, plus their interaction with society.

Two men are driving in an atmosphere of melancholy, even depression. Passenger Philippe is in low spirits and driver Driss is concerned as they drive aimlessly through the Parisian night, following the constraints of traffic and the highway code. They are dully going nowhere and this reflects Philippe’s frame of mind and, as we shall discover, his physical limitations. Suddenly, Driss breaks free from the traffic and powers away, breaking speed limits and several other laws at the same time, but supplying a sense of exhilaration, defiance and a taste of life. 

Naturally, the police become involved very rapidly but Philippe (who is quadriplegic) and Driss act together to manipulate the figures of authority so they gain their sympathy and pity, thus not only avoiding punishment but gaining an escort to a nearby hospital in the process. Philippe and Driss take great satisfaction in this result as, together, they have managed to profit by Philippe’s disabilities and limitations to outwit the system and society which have conspired to write him off due to his condition, while seizing a few moments’ escape from Philippe’s highly restricted existence.

Philippe is a very wealthy quadriplegic who belongs to the economic and social elite. It appears that he was so accustomed to what he regarded as life-numbing security that he took risks to furnish thrills and excitement and so, as he went ever higher and faster, he eventually took a risk too far and lost feeling below the neck as a result. He also lost his beloved wife to illness. In such circumstances it would be easy to slip into negativity and depression but, recognising the essential value of life, Philippe has focused on cerebral or intellectual pursuits such as art and music in his physically diminished life. Surrounded by a helpful and devoted staff, he makes the best of things, though spiritually he may be doing less well as his somewhat restricted daily life appears rather clinical, uninspired and lacklustre.

In contrast, Driss and his family lead a somewhat crowded chaotic hand to mouth existence, and may be struggling both economically and emotionally. Driss is physical, spontaneous, open, friendly, shows common sense and has principles, though we discover he has a prison record (due, we imagine, to desperation to provide for his family). He displays a caring attitude toward his sister and his mother, and he is highly protective of his younger brother who is leaning toward joining a gang. He also displays a natural effusiveness and dynamism which, combined with his openness and frankness, could easily lead to conflict or discord.

When he presents himself for interview as Philippe’s personal assistant, Driss is entirely open about the fact he is required to apply for a number of jobs in order to qualify for financial assistance from the state, and so all he needs from Philippe is a signature to indicate he has gone through the motions of interviewing him. Driss makes no attempt to ingratiate himself, shows no real consideration or understanding of Philippe’s situation and responds to questions without guile or hope of gaining the position, yet they engage in some banter and, despite being a less than obvious choice, Philippe offers Driss the job on a trial basis - exactly because Driss displayed spontaneity, frankness and a willingness to challenge the perceptions and attitudes with which Philippe is surrounded. In other words, he offered a spark of life and energy in what had become a dull and repetitive undertaking.

For Driss, this position offers stability, independence and security as well as a fruitful, insightful and highly amusing introduction to modern art, classical music and opera. Driss continues to share his incisive and challenging observations on Philippe’s cultural pursuits, offering down-to-earth alternatives to Philippe’s abstract and artistic interpretations, and a mighty slice of amusement and energy in the process. He approaches his physical care of Philippe with the same openness, innocence and spontaneity, potentially causing Philippe considerable injury but at the same time injecting the process with life and energy, but also, most importantly, without pity. Driss treats Philippe as an equal – he does not affect compassion, tolerance or sympathy, and Philippe greatly appreciates this quality. He is treated like a man and consequently he finds Driss’s company stimulating and enjoyable.

Their status of companionship evolves when Philippe struggles one night and is clearly pained both physically and spiritually. Driss responds instinctively, asking what he can do to help. The relationship they have built so far allows Philippe to confide he needs air, or simply to get out. Driss then seizes Philippe and takes him out in Paris in the middle of the night. They hold a relaxed and open conversation in which they share events of the past and emotional responses, a discussion which forms the basis of their future relationship. This is no longer an employer-employee relationship. Personal interest, sharing and emotional commitment raise their relationship to the status of friendship.

And so, they help one another. Philippe gains physically, spiritually and emotionally. Apart from movement, Philippe gains experience of different types of music, is immersed in humour-laden discussion of art and learns to assert himself as a father when he disciplines his haughty adopted daughter. But most importantly, he regains a sense of hope, purpose and appreciation which had been slipping away from his existence.

Driss experiments with modern art, is exposed to culture, learns some self-discipline and to conduct himself with greater finesse, while retaining common sense and principle. This is amusingly demonstrated in the contrasting ways in which he deals with drivers who have parked in the entrance to Philippe’s driveway. More importantly, Driss derives a sense of purpose and self-respect from their association, and hones his quick wit and charm to reflect a more cultured and reflective approach or outlook.

However, family obligations and duties, readily acknowledged by Philippe, mean that eventually Driss and Philippe must part company. Driss has evolved and moves ahead with his life, applying for jobs with new-found confidence and poise. However, having developed a reinvigorated outlook on life, Philippe is dreadfully disappointed and misses the friendship and emotional engagement he has come to value so much. It is at this point that his friend returns briefly, but only to transport him, unknowingly, toward hope, positivity and the next emotional stage in his life, for which, in a sense, his friendship with Driss paved the way.

The film’s huge surprise success is due in no short measure to the sharp script which balances sympathy, humour and emotional engagement, and the crisp, involving direction, both the responsibility of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. However, the natural, touching, amusing and thought-provoking performances by François Cluzet and Omar Sy transport the material to another plain.

Although the film touches briefly on themes such as integration and understanding of the handicapped, family, discipline, seizing the moment and savouring life, whatever it may bring, this is undoubtedly above all else an uplifting hymn to friendship and the mutual benefits emotional engagement can bring, even in the most surprising and doubtful of circumstances.

My thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at .