MARC’S REVIEW – Unforgiven

“Unforgiven” is a crowning achievement for director/actor/producer Clint Eastwood. It’s really a movie and screenplay from David Webb Peoples (the scribe behind “Blade Runner”) designed only for Clint Eastwood. After a long career of portraying quiet men with violent means, Eastwood transitions to anti-violence that would thematically dominate the next chapter of his filmography with “In The Line Of Fire,” “A Perfect World,” “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Gran Torino,” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.” (WOW!!!! What a list!!!!!)

The character of William Munny is now a failing pig farmer haunted by a past of gunslinging murder and mayhem. His past returns when he’s offered a large bounty to murder two cowboys who disfigured a prostitute with a knife. He recruits his former partner Ned (another likable character for Morgan Freeman) to accompany him, and they join a kid who presumes he’s ready to kill but is really only fooling himself.

Meanwhile two other stories collide when the cruel, torturous Sheriff Little Bill Dugget (Gene Hackman in an Oscar winning role) meets with a gleeful celebrity in his own mind, gunfighter English Bob played by Richard Harris. Character actor Saul Rubinek plays Beauchamp, a reporter eager to document and dramatize these legends of the quickly expiring period of the Old West. Beauchamp will soon realize the heroes he envisions are nothing but pipe dreams.

Little Bill outlaws weapons in his town, and for the offense? A brutal beating or a painful whipping. Hackman is great at looking like his motivations make sense. Maybe they do. He sets an example and maybe it casts a preventative measure, albeit with a brutal arm of the law. Little Bill is happy to beat someone in the street, only to return happily to building his home along the river.

“Unforgiven” doesn’t make the violence easy for its characters. It’s harder to kill. It’s harder to listen to a dying victim beg for water. It’s just as hard to mount a horse. Most importantly, it’s hard to accept how cold blooded you can be when pushed to a point.

To watch “Unforgiven” almost requires at least a little experience of Eastwood’s first half of his career. The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry surmise a history for Munny where it was easy to draw the revolver, point and shoot. This film shows that defiance of scruples doesn’t last forever.

It’s a 1992 Film (Best Picture Oscar Winner) that still carries an important message responding to the questions of bearing arms and Wild West violence that recklessly surfaces in what is expected to be a more civilized society today.

Watch “Unforgiven” for its many moments of symbolism, changes in attitude among practically every character, and for the well executed direction of another classic from the great filmmaker, Clint Eastwood.

This is one of the best pictures of the last 30 years.

(Would love to hear commentary from others on this film. This is one worthy of extensive discussion. I also recommend you read Roger Ebert’s “Great Movie” review; here – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-unforgiven-1992
Ebert initially gave “Unforgiven” a thumbs down. This was one of those few instances where he changed his mind.)

3 comments

  1. One popular “rebuttal” to the film: it makes a point of being different from Eastwood’s other films/characters by making violence almost abhorrent to William Munny, but then he delivers bloody retribution/mass murder in an epic gun battle. Makes for a thrilling climax, but isn’t that at cross-purposes to the movie itself? Eastwood is having his cake (“Violence solves nothing”) and eating it, too (“…except when it does”).

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    • I don’t think so. Munny is by nature a violent man and much like say a drug addict or an alcoholic, he’ll act on his past transgressions if tempted. The film offers a scenario where, whether we agree with Munny or not, he resorts to what he knows best.

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      • True, but the popular argument is not whether the plot “works”, which it does. It’s more about the fact that the last ten minutes of the film, crowd-pleasing though they may be, contradicts the entire previous two hours, from a “message” standpoint. The audience stand-in is The Scofield Kid, someone who has romanticized violence and killing bad guys (or whomever) in his head, but who has never killed anyone himself. By the end of the film, he’s done; he’s never going to kill again. That is SUPPOSED to be the message of the movie. But along comes the avenging angel, and now the message is, “Revenge is a dish best served with guns blazing.” Again, from a PLOT perspective, this is gangbusters. From a MESSAGE perspective, it’s a switcheroo, like if, at the end of “The Goonies”, the kids decided, “You know what, Astoria sucks, let’s move anyway.”

        Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the movie, I think it’s one of the masterpieces of the genre. But when I hear that argument, from a logical perspective, I have to concede the point. Mixed messages.

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