(director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriter: David Webb Peoples; cinematographer: Jack N. Green; editor: Joel Cox; music: Lennie Niehaus; cast: Clint Eastwood (Bill Munny), Gene Hackman (Sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett), Morgan Freeman (Ned Logan), Richard Harris (English Bob), Jaimz Woolvett (The “Schofield Kid”), Frances Fisher (Strawberry Alice), Anna Levine (Delilah), Saul Rubinek (W.W. Beauchamp); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Clint Eastwood; Warner Brothers; 1992)
“In Clint’s vision of the Old West all parties are tainted by violence and the need for revenge.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” goes beyond the familiar story line of a reformed gunslinger who is forced to pick up his guns again, by Clint giving the myth a revisionist look through debunking the legendary western heroes. Written by David Webb Peoples, “Unforgiven” entertains and certainly pays homage to the western tradition but also casts a skeptical eye at such black and white morality tales. In Clint’s vision of the Old West all parties are tainted by violence and the need for revenge. This Oscar winning film is dedicated to Clint’s mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. It was one of the better films of the nineties, and stands out as one of the all-time great westerns. Clint’s muscular helming enabled him to win for Best Director.
Set in the 1880’s, Bill Munny (Eastwood) is a retired gunslinger and a widower who has settled down on a declining hog farm with his two children, where he’s usually drunk but hasn’t killed anyone in eleven years as he adheres to the vow made to his late wife to reform.
The incident that gets Munny to put on his guns again happened one night when a couple of cowpokes are entertaining some saloon girls. When one of them feels insulted by a remark directed at his anatomy by the prostitute named Delilah, he pulls out his knife and slashes her face. Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), the town’s sadistic sheriff, handles matters by allowing the attackers to get off scot-free after they hand over six horses to the saloon keeper. This slap on the wrist for punishment angers Delilah’s other prostitute friend Strawberry Alice. She declares “We may be whores, but we aren’t horses.” All the prostitutes pool their savings and offer a bounty of $1,000 to anybody who will murder the two cowboys. The notorious Munny is told of the bounty by the nearsighted punky gunslinger worshiper named the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett). While Munny declares, “I ain’t like that no more,” nevertheless he needs the bounty money to feed his children and save the dying farm animals and goes with the Kid to Big Whiskey, a fictional backwater town in the high plains, to collect the bounty. The two bounty hunters then convince Munny’s former partner and now upright citizen Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to join them in seeing that justice is carried out.
The psychopathic sheriff is more interested in showing everyone that the legends of the west are cowards than in keeping everything legal according to the law. When loudmouth rascal English Bob (Richard Harris) comes to town to collect the bounty along with his nerdy city-boy dime-store biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) and the drunken Bob openly brags about his foul deeds and how many he has killed, Little Bill becomes so incensed over Bob that he beats him to a pulp before throwing him in the clinker and vows to tell Beauchamp the real story about the frontier times one of these days.
It builds to the power-hungry sheriff, more interested in keeping his authority than following the law, trying to stop the bounty hunters from collecting their reward. Justice in this town is paid for in blood. Though to the film’s credit, it questions everyone’s actions and morals–somberly showing that violence begets violence and that the law and justice are not necessarily one and the same animal. Clint cops an alternate myth to the traditional western, as the film’s antihero is still haunted by the dark side of his nature and is mired in his own cruelty. It’s a film of great power and intensity and ambiguity that takes a fresh look at the western and offers as a reward the opposite of the biblical call for forgiveness. The Christ-like Clint recovers from his beating at the hands of the lawman and reverts to doing his Man With No Name thing.
REVIEWED ON 3/10/2004 GRADE: A