**Note: This film contains coarse language and a few scenes of violence. By far the cleanest of the movies I’ve reviewed so far…
This is a movie I’ve seen in a lot of different pieces, but never all the way through. I love Westerns, both spaghetti westerns and modern westerns, television and radio versions—even Star Trek versions.
This won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman)—so it ought to be good.
This is a pretty blunt movie, dealing with some darker aspects of life in the West, namely the whoring, the violence, and the alcoholism—not romanticizing it really, but approaching it as a necessity in many ways.
This starts off with a memorable scene in a whorehouse—I mean, where else do you start a western? Even Gunsmoke has a lady of the night—Miss Kitty (come on, we all know it…). Two guys attack a whore and cut her face. Gene Hackman, playing the sheriff, Little Bill, comes in and fines them rather than punishing them.
We then meet William Munny (Clint Eastwood), who apparently used to be a “no-good-cold-blooded assassin” and is approached by a man who wants to collect a $1,000 reward offered by the whores by killing the two men who mangled the first lady’s face. Munny says no initially, but then he seems like he’s reconsidering. Munny is practicing his shooting. He’s not very good with a pistol anymore, but he can sure hit a can with a shotgun! That’s good, because I was expecting a good, old-fashioned practicing montage.
It seems as though, even though this is set in the 1880s, women still manage to have hairstyles from the 1980s. It’s weird!
Obviously, Mr. Munny doesn’t have any kind of a problem with leaving his kids for 2 weeks at a time. I mean, it’s not like they’re in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming or anything.
He enlists Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to help him. They feel as though their cause is just (and yes, they need some money…), as the injuries done to the lady are unacceptable. They go on the trail of the two men after 10 years of domestic life—it’s very much a story of aging men getting back to their roots, but not too close.
I apparently can’t read a DVD cover, as I didn’t realize that Richard Harris is in this! I love him! …and he has a good time insulting the U.S. president! He plays English Bob, a gunfighter traveling with a biographer (Saul Rubinek from Warehouse 13 and a great episode of Star Trek)—certainly a unique characteristic. The only thing similar that I can think of is the old radio show called Frontier Gentleman, about London newspaper reporter J.B. Kendall traveling throughout the old west. It was a lot of fun!
Apparently, Little Bill knows English Bob and suspects that he’s in town to collect the “whore gold.” He’s not too happy about it and kicks the tar out of him…and then English Bob leaves. What was the point of that? Other than to demonstrate how much Little Bill hates assassins and refuses to let guns in his town, English Bob is pretty much unnecessary.
Also, Little Bill basically just loves to kick the heck out of people. William Munny gets a beating when he won’t give over his gun because he’s nearly delirious from the cold. He doesn’t fight back at all, and he could have—it’s a bit of a demonstration that he’s really moved on from his old days. He’s responsible now.
Eventually, they confront one the killers, but Ned can’t completely go through with it. Ned is captured by Little Bill and whipped. It goes pretty hard for him, and it really demonstrates Little Bill’s cruelty.
They track down the second one and their third companion, the Schofield Kid, kills him in the outhouse—his first kill, after a lot of bragging about his many kills. This is a sight we don’t often see in Westerns, which have gunfights and killings prevalent throughout. The Schofield Kid realizes that it’s not as romantic as it’s all made out to be.
Then, Little Bill kills Ned, and when Munny finds out about this, he starts drinking again—something he’s staunchly avoided before this, as it’s the cause of all his troubles in his previous life. He’s mad now—Ned didn’t kill anyone and left before William and the Schofield Kid went through with it. Munny’s going for revenge, and he passes Ned’s body in a coffin with a sign on it that says, “This is what happens to assassins around here.”
Apparently, whisky makes William Munny a ghost. He ducks but doesn’t move other than that, and 20 men all shoot at him and every single one misses him while he kills 5 and Little Bill.
This film is bookended by a brief story of Munny’s wife who died before the beginning. Essentially, it asks the question, why did she marry a known killer? Why marry someone so “vicious”? He changed for her, but eventually his dark nature comes through. He sees it as for a good reason, but still he can’t fully repress his innate nature.
Verdict: This film treats the Western genre a little differently than many films, certainly for its time. It does not glorify the death, but explores the repercussions of such a culture—what it does to those within it. I appreciated that a lot. I think that, for the themes with which it deals, and the way it handles them, Unforgiven deserves a place on the list. It’s a little long, but the only part which wasn’t wholly necessary other than to flesh out the character of Little Bill, and I really don’t fault a director for characterization, especially so we realize that Little Bill isn’t just a cold-blooded bully of a sheriff; he really believes that he’s making Big Whiskey a safer town by doing what he does.
Well done, Clint Eastwood, well done!
“If you were to point a pistol at a king or queen, your hand would shake as if palsied. But a president? Why not shoot a president?
…You been talking about that queen again? On Independence Day?”
Hell of a thing, killing another man. Taking away all he’s got, and everything he’s ever gonna have.