Great article review from a great fan of a great movie “Unforgiven” by Leigh Springsteen April 2007
In 1992, Clint Eastwood created the last and greatest western; ‘Unforgiven’. A tribute to the previous masters, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, who died within a mere 3 years before this brutal masterpiece.
Eastwood stars as William Munny a retired gunslinger with a guilt-filled past. He lives alone with his two children and grave of his young wife outside. One day a young cowboy, The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), comes in need of his service to hunt down some men who cut up a whore. William reluctantly accepts and with the help of Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) they work together to track down the criminals. Meanwhile, the sheriff of the town, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) is also looking for them. This then leads to a bloody showdown climax, welcoming back a sort of ‘Man With No Name’ character to the genre.
William Munny is a cold-blooded killer. The Schofield Kid wants to be one. But, all the murders and sins Munny used to commit has affected him in an extraordinary way. He takes no hesitation in killing. In the climax he just walks past a man he shot who didn’t die and shoots him dead. It may sound like nothing now, but he just took a life for no apparent reason. When the Kid kills his first man, of which deserved it, he hesitates. This is The Kid who is so eager to kill people as he thinks it will make him a man. But after the assassination, he breaks down. He realized what he had done. He had wiped another man of the earth. And Munny does it with ease. So does Little Bill. He is a violent and brutal cop who uses torture to get what he wants from the prisoners. Logan also finds it hard to take lives.
The film studies on how much a life is worth. Sometimes it is worthless (see Tarantino or Scorsese films) and sometimes it is a major feature. Usually a film only does one. Unforgiven does both. A life isn’t worth the same amount to each person. When a life is taken, it is the killer who decides how much it is worth by how much it affects him. Whether he just lets it slide (Munny and Little Bill) or kills someone and calls it a day (Kid and Logan), because they can’t bring themselves to forgetting it. This is the most thought-provoking thing for me personally, ever.
Unforgiven in my opinion is the greatest western. Actually, its the greatest film of all-time. It shows how violent it was back then, and the fact everybody was beaten. It is more realistic than any of Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ films (though I will admit they were set in a sort of fantasy land). But, Munny is not proud of his violent nature. He blames it on alcohol; which his wife persuaded him to quit to explain why he also gave up being a murderer. The film shows the cowboys as they really are, either cowards or killers. The choice of word ‘coward’ is to say that they should be killers, as that is apparently what a man is (an exaggeration) as most westerns glorify violence, but the men can’t handle it.
Clint Eastwood did an amazing job as William Munny. He showed how he regretted his past very well by admitting to it in a shameful way; like when asked if he killed women and children he replied “I’ve killed just about anything that walked or crawled at one time or another, and I’m here to kill you…”. He even admits that he will meet Little Bill in Hell. Gene Hackman delivers one of the greatest performances of the decade, the tension he makes is incredible. Woolvett and Freeman remain in solid above average performances throughout.
The script, written by David Webb Peoples, buzzed around Hollywood for nearly 20 years, even being rejected by some of the cast, before Eastwood picked it up. Clint Eastwood deserved his Oscar for best direction. The plot flowed fluently with some surprises and memorable lines. An instant classic. The cinematography is much different that of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ or the others westerns Eastwood appeared in. It is a much cleaner and crisp view, yet also being extremely raw. The score, though not used often is very refreshing and moving.
‘Unforgiven’ is an unforgettable look on life, man and the real west. One of the most powerful films of the ’90s. A true triumph exploring important morals. Do not miss it.