1992 (Oscars for Film, Director, and Supporting Actor...among others)
When we have our bar stool conversations about the greatest living directors, we always seem to overlook Eastwood. Although he may not have as many exemplars as Spielberg or Hitchcock, Eastwood enjoys a simliar level of consistancy. Although Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River are exceptional films, Unforgiven is Eastwood's magnus opus.
William Munny (Eastwood), an aged killer who eschewed a life of intoxicated violence under the pressure from his now deceased wife, struggles as a pig farmer along with his two children on the plains of the American West. Munny’s vows of sobriety and nonviolence are challenged when a naïve, aspiring killer, the Schofield Kid, approaches Munny to assist him in tracking down a pair of cowpokes responsible for knifing a Big Whiskey prostitute who made the unfortunate error of commenting on a cowboy’s shortcomings (they cut her up real good. They even cut up her teets). Despite his initial reservations, Munny gathers his partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and joins Schofield in an effort to collect the bounty. Munny’s effort inevitably attracts the attention of Big Whiskey sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (in an Oscar winning performance by Gene Hackman), a sadistic lawman with a misconceived sense of justice. Invariably, the film ends with an explosive gun battle between Munny and Daggett.
Unforgiven clearly follows many of the formulaic elements of the western, including a final gunfight and the struggle between the law and the desperado. While dealing with major generic elements as the friction between town and country, the lawful and the unlawful, the innocent and the guilty, and the administration of justice, Unforgiven reverses these tensions, overturning the traditional hierarchy of values present in most westerns. In offering new perspectives on generic standards, Unforgiven becomes a uniquely reflexive film, possessing a keen self-awareness of belonging to a particular genre. Although I am big fan of the Western, I am even a bigger fan of the cynical Western (Who Shot Liberty Valance?, for example), and this is the best.
Unforgiven is a story best told by Eastwood. With numerous roles as the laconic bad ass of the American Wild West, Eastwood's performance as William Munny amplifies the ironic undertones of the film. Although Eastwood really stresses the unavoidable return of one's violent nature, it is hard not to like Eastwood's anti-hero, especially juxtaposed to Hackman's Bill. Munny really seems to appeal to the Teddy Roosevelt's Speak Softly and Carry A Big Stick mentality of the American ethos.
This is one of my favorite films of all time. Very little else to say.