After putting up with recent debacles in the early 1990’s, Clint Eastwood took a bold and daring step to return to his western roots, and dug out from his dusty vault a screenplay written by David Webb Peoples about a retired drifter who gives out one last kill for money to support his family, and made it his next project. Eastwood purchased the rights of the script from peoples in 1976 and shelved it until 1992, because he wanted to be the right age to play the main character. And it was worth it because out came Unforgiven, a modern day western that tackles and dismantles the true realities of how the Wild West was. A modern day classic, Unforgiven went on to win 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and well deserved. This film not only revived Eastwood’s career, but also brought the Western genre once again back to the limelight.William Munny (Eastwood) was a notorious killer, and thief, whom killed many people for or without reason, mainly because he was always drunk, and the whiskey was what gave him courage and aim. Then he retired to settle himself into the married life as a hog farmer, but then many years later, in 1878, his wife died of smallpox, and was left widowed with his two young kids. 2 years later, a young, arrogant gunslinger (Jaimz Woolvet), who calls himself the “Schofield Kid” (After his Schofield model Smith &Wesson revolver) shows up at his farm and offers him to go to Big Whiskey, Wyoming to kill a pair of cowboys who cut up a whore. The reward: $1000, half for Munny, half for The Kid. Munny at first hesitates for respect of his wife and because he’s not like that anymore, but then he sees that his present life as a farmer is a poor one, and does not hold much promise, and he wants his two kids to be educated. So he takes the assignment, and goes off to find his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to take him along for the bounty hunt. But first, they’ll have to come under the clutches of tough-motherfucker Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), once an outlaw himself, who won’t tolerate any outlaws or as he calls them, assassins, come into his town and claim the reward, and is willing to roughen up and humiliate whoever does.
"Possibly The Greatest Western Ever Made"
Eastwood summarized this film’s message saying, “The moral is the concern with gunplay.” Eastwood finally makes a western that reflects on modern times, on the opening shots we see the sun set on the horizon as we see a lonely man, a tree and a house stand there. A symbolism of the end of the era of the Wild West, when outlaws were heroes and lawmen were the villains. Then a new morning arrives, and retired gunfighters no ride with pulp writers, accompanying them just to get their story, and live off from that, and we see that through the introduction of English Bob (Richard Harris) and his “biographer” W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), whom arrive ahead of time before William, Ned and The Kid. But what Eastwood does, is that he also slags off the supposed “hero outlaw” myth by showing us how Little Bill goes on and beats the shit out of Bob, and later debunking a story that Beauchamp had written about Bob whom killed somebody to protect the honor of a lady, which was a bunch of bullshit as Little Bill would reveal later. This scene completely debunks the myths of the Wild West. Outlaws were not heroes, they did heroic things but they weren’t heroes, and they were as evil as the town lawmen. This means that whatever stuff that a pulp writer writes, will be most of the time a complete bastardization of the events, and how they happened, for strictly marketing purposes, and to sell off some guys image as a legend, and a hero, when the true facts tell otherwise. It also points out how alcohol has an influence on a man’s courage to grab a gun and kill somebody, and when someone wants to kill someone else, he will do it, regardless of whether he’s armed or not, or whether it’s just cause or not, and the worst of it, he will do it just for the hell of it. But all this leads to one single conclusion: Gunfights are not exciting or glorious or whatever bullshit pulp writers will come up with. Gunfights are ugly and unpleasant, and killing a man is a really hard and regretting thing to do. If someone gets shot, there will be blood, and there will be sadness, grief and regret. Once again, the western evolves, and instead of being a mythology, it becomes a reality. This reality spreads throughout the film, where we see Munny having problems in mounting his horse (this is also a metaphor on his wild past), Ned folding when trying to shoot one of the cowboys, and lastly The Kid, whom learns the very cruel lesson about what it feels like to kill a man. Another reflection of this reality is that in fact, no character is likeable, each one of the characters in the film has his own sense of evil and a reason why to be despicable, but that’s because that’s the way it was, it was an ugly cruel reality.
Eastwood doesn’t hold anything back, and tells the story with a realistic sense, telling it like it is, with no myths or clichés ever hanging anywhere. He and his cinematographer Jack N. Green manage to bring out some impressive photography as well as managing to create a realistic atmosphere of suspense while filling the scenery with rich symbolism. Joel Cox’s editing is also great, giving us one concise product, free of meaningless scenes. David Webb Peoples screenplay doesn’t focus the story on the main character and instead, manages to boast over the many characters it contains to broaden and develop the story and give it a deeper meaning while at the same time, delivering its message. Some people will consider it as an Anti-Western film since logically, it goes against the many trademarks and traditions that the genre is famous for, but to dismiss it as just that, would be missing the entire point of the movie, since what its mainly doing is bringing us a more realistic Western, with an approach more down to earth and more accurate than the one that we’re used to. A Western that tells us how things were like they were, and not how many think it should be. There are no heroes in the real world, only humans who do heroic things, and this is no more real than the same portrayal of William Munny, whom we see the true character that he is, falling off his horse, beaten up, crying and lamenting the deaths of the people he shot (giving the character a human approach), only to come back with a vengeance and with an wrath that brutally echoed his violent past. Eastwood finally dignifies and makes the hero human, and is freed from his “Man With No Name” ego.
The performances are fantastic. Eastwood gives probably the finest performance of his career as William Munny, and his eye for directing has never been stronger. Gene Hackman matches Eastwood every step of the way with his riveting yet charismatic portrayal of Little Bill Daggett and proves why he’s one of the finest actors out there. Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, and Jaimz Woolvet also shine on their roles. The rest of the supporting cast is also great.In the end, I can’t tell you how much I liked this film. I fucking loved it, and it deserves every Oscar that it won. There have been many great westerns out there like the Man With No Name Trilogy, High Noon, Shane, and Stagecoach, amongst others, but in my book, none of them tops this film off. Unquestionably Eastwood’s best film to date and arguably the finest Western ever made, this film doesn’t look any more fresher than when it was originally released 10 years ago, a must for everyone.
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originally posted: 10/09/02 00:13:48