Saturday, January 07, 2006


Dir: Clint Eastwood (Pale Rider, Blood Work)

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.


Blogger maxwell noted on 1/10/2006 05:37:00 AM that...

I agree with you -- this movie goes down as one of the great *films* let alone westerns.

Eastwood really can make the camera communicate a feeling. The palpable darkness of Unforgiven is just awesome.

Despite my general hippie-esque leanings, I'll admit to a certain admiration for Clint Eastwood. I like his movies. I've always loved the spaghetti westerns -- my mom used to keep me home from school to watch them. I absolutely loved Heartbreak Ridge when it came out!

Perhaps the true test -- when I last lived in a group house of hoodlums, we owned a random pile of vhs tapes and the most watched movie was . . . In the line of fire.

So props to Clint . . . Million dollar baby was rock solid. Nice review & nice shout out.  

Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 1/11/2006 12:53:00 AM that...

Fascinating to watch a man direct a movie which so shattered the genre that contributed to his rise to fame in the first place. And undoubtedly in my mind his best movie- the movie does not toy with you with a plot twist like Mystic River, or jolt you with emotional devastation like Million Dollar Baby- here the build up to the nihilistic letdown can be seen from miles away but is watched with rapt attention by everyone in the vicinity.  

Blogger paroske noted on 1/11/2006 10:39:00 AM that...

Without denying any of the above, I do think that Unforgiven gets a tad too much credit for dropping a bomb on the genre, when it is actually the culmination of a twenty year deconstruction of the Western. The artistic peak and omega point, I grant, but it stands on the shoulders of others.

The Shootist (1976). In many ways that is more groundbreaking than Unforgiven, even if it is only a great movie and not a triumph like the Eastwood.


Blogger ronvon2 noted on 1/11/2006 11:41:00 AM that...

I am not saying that it is the first film to bend the genre, but it is the most effective (a different claim than the artistic apex argument that we all agree on), because this is Eastwood's film. Part of defining a genre is the persona of its leads and Eastwood is an iconic force in the Western genre. Unforgiven, therefore, problematizes generic boundaries that are predicated on an actor's persona (now, Wayne's role in Liberty Valance could challenge my claim a bit...but since Eastwood is the director and Unforgiven follows the story of a gunslinger AFTER he lived the "western" life, it is a more "effective" challenge to generic boundaries).

But as long as we all agree on its artistic merit...I am satisfied.