Clint Eastwood did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the title character of The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Looking at the role at a glance might cause one to believe it to be simply a standard Eastwood western role, which in itself is nothing to scoff at as Eastwood usually gives good performances in such circumstances. Eastwood's "standard" roles started out as the more sardonic badass in the Dollars trilogy as well as a other westerns he appeared in. When he started directing these himself there began a shift and Eastwood started to become a bit darker of a figure in the film, although that original iteration wasn't wiped away all that quickly. This certainly can be seen in the character of Josey Wales who we follow in his attempted escape to Mexico after every other member of the confederate army has surrendered except him. During this time we are treated to some classic Eastwood quips along the way, and Eastwood delivers these flawlessly as per usual. The one about pullin' pistols or whistlin' Dixie is particularly smooth and impeccably executed. As usual as well Eastwood brings the dead pan humor into the line deliveries brilliantly, and most often with just his often rather hilarious reactions to anyone possibly buffoonery around him, it is all indeed some classic Eastwood.
To continue on this point Eastwood once again finds that particular way that only he can quite do. Eastwood has considerable charisma, and even charm, but it's all in his own way and on his own terms. A Eastwood performance never feels like it's purposefully trying to charm you, but nevertheless he just kinda does anyways. Eastwood does not make any exceptions for old Josey Wales in fact in this film in particular Eastwood makes no excuses for his character, and does not make an obvious attempts at an obvious likability really, which I will get to in more detail a little later on. Again though that Eastwood presence is so remarkable in the way carry every scene so effortlessly while being so minimalist at the same time. Eastwood is a master of this, and Eastwood as a director knows how to amplify it all the more as he always holds attention in every scene even when Wales might only have a single action. Eastwood is an actor who really does just so much with just a twitch of the eye, and of course this could not be more fitting to the character of Wales who is all about his rather simple actions or his few words just before he draws his guns.
Now being an Eastwood directed western the character is much darker than his earlier characters like the man with no name. Of course this is a requirement for the role of Josey Wales, given his past which I will be getting to soon. Eastwood though is outstanding though in the sheer viciousness he realizes in his character. The potential for violence for the man always feels possible, and it's quite interesting what Eastwood is able to accomplish with his performance. Eastwood creates much of the tension of the film with his performance, of course he creates all of it being the director as well, but he does so much as a performer. In his realization of Josey Wales's personal style he presents essentially a ticking time bomb in every scene where it appears that Josey might face someone, or even some when he might not. There's a calm insurance in Eastwood's work fitting for a man who's being killing for so long that now that's all that he really knows how to do. In this calmness though Eastwood realizes such an intensity by making death seemingly one of the few ways in which Josey knows how to end an a conversation with. Although he's our hero for the film, there is something chilling Eastwood finds in this method, particularly in one cold interaction with a bounty hunter with a case of temporary cold feet.
Now much of what I have written so far can be skewed as more typical Eastwood, although that should not be taken for granted considering the effectiveness of that to begin with as well as this is one of the very best example of it. Nevertheless this role is a bit different as opposed to many a Eastwood western hero we actually find out what compels Josey Wales to be such an efficient killer. The film opening Eastwood is terrific in presenting just an average optimistic man who in just a couple of minutes. What's even more amazing though is how affecting Eastwood actually is in making the quick deaths of Josey's family meaningful, as the grief he portrays is quite palatable, and there is never a question that it could lead Josey to become the bitter man we meet after the opening credits. We don't see the whole transformation, as we come back after the civil war is already over, but we do see the end result. Eastwood's characters tend to be sardonic and not really care about the men he kills, though with Wales Eastwood takes it a tad further through his portrayal of the character's personal vendetta. When he kills the men there is a particular powerful hate that Eastwood exudes, particularly in the uncaring way he mocks all his kills with a spit of messy tobacco where their corpses lie.
This is not Eastwood portraying a soulless killer by any means. Not only because he's the hero, but the most remarkable aspect of his work here is how emotional he makes the character actually. Of course this is in the emotion more becoming of killer which is hate, that Eastwood portrays as quite abundant, but that's not really who Wales in Eastwood's portrayal of him. During his journey to Mexico to escape the authorities there are people Wales connects with in more way than giving them an extra bit of lead. One of these relationships is with a younger rebel who happened to be part of a botched surrender, and goes some of the way with Josey. The boy is injured though and eventually succumbs to his wounds. Eastwood is incredible in the moment of the boy's death as Eastwood reveals perhaps the true Josey in that there is such sadness in the man, as one of his few friends have gone, and seems to suggest that the man's callousness is at least partially a facade. In that moment, and a few others where Josey is pressed to care, Eastwood is quite moving revealing a vulnerability in the man as though he needs to be such a sardonic killer or else he would simply break down crying from the memories of all that he's lost. Instead of the film ending in an arbitrary fashion of the outlaw merely getting away from his pursuers, Eastwood rather wonderfully reveals a return of the heart of the character by the end. Although it is clear that he will never be the same man he was in the opening scene, Eastwood earns the way a more outward returns to the man, and that death no longer seems to be the man's only belief in regards to life. This is a great performance by Eastwood as he brings depth and also a surprising amount of poignancy to his portrait of this hardened old west outlaw.