Unforgiven (1992)- Clint Eastwood
Such an amazing film, the opening shot is just perfect, a man reflecting on his time coming to an end, almost representing the end of the western era, where men who were outlaws want to settle down and put their dark pasts behind them, and the two men that are representative of this change are William Munny and Little Bill Daggett. Both are fascinating characters played to perfection by Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman, Bill Munny acknowledges for what he was as a man who has commited sin, yet Little Bill believes somewhat creates an odd morality inside himself believing that everything he does is percieved as right even the darker violence he bestows on the community of Big Whisky. Both seem to feel that they can seamlessly blend into civilisation by running a pig farm and building a house doing what 'normal' people would do, yet they both remain haunted and are unable to transcend the violence that elevated their status. In the end they are forced to acknowledge who they are and where they are both headed.
Eastwood gives one of his finest performances, perfectly capturing a man who is consumed with guilt yet who is still able to realistically transform into the avenging figure that gave fame to so many of his iconic characters, yet fully acknowledging that the audience would not cheer him this time round, yet feel saddened that he slipped back into his old ways. All of these facets are perfectly captured by Eastwood. Hackman is astonishing, and gives arguably the films most complex performance. If Hackman had played the character as a one note brutal thug then the characterisations would have been simplistic and it would have been easy for us to cheer Eastwood, but Hackman unexpectedly gives Little Bill some depth and humanity that when the film concludes we are left debating who was right, as opposed to being content with Eastwood winning. In addition his performance brilliantly corresponds to the themes of the film, particularly the opening of scene in the picture in the sense that iron fist was essential in the days of outlaws, but those days are setting like the sun at the picture’s opening sequence, and Bill cannot adjust. Freeman provides some excellent support as Ned, Eastwood's friend, in addition to terrific work by Frances Fischer, and Richard Harris, as the arrogant English Bob.
Eastwood's direction is just spot on, expansive shots of landscape that are common within Westerns are exchanged for dark composition and bleak shots that capture haunting figures and faces that tell a thousand stories, thanks to the brilliant work of Cinematographer Jack Green. What suprises me about this film is how every death seemed to resonate and have such emotional weight to it. I liked how Eastwood captures the true effects of violence and the results that haunt in its aftermath. In addition he also breaks down the West into what it really is, using the assistance of English Bob and the Novelist, in their scenes with Little Bill, where a casual conversation suddendly transitions into a dark tale about cowardice, and Little Bill reveals the West to be a violent place, where you won based on keeping your cool.
Just an oustanding achievement all round, and Eastwood's best film that deservedly won its Oscars. 10/10
My favorite movie. Here's the review I wrote 4 years ago:
For me, this is the definitive western. It is a perfect example of filmmaking, storytelling, directing, acting, cinematography . . . any and every thing associated with filmmaking. There are so many things I love about this movie, I don't know where to start. Clint Eastwood made a movie about so many things and ideas, that it's impossible for me to pinpoint which is my favorite.
The movie starts off beautifully with a wide shot of the Munny home, accompanied by a touching piece of music (Eastwood composed himself) and a preface touching upon William Munny's wife and his mother-in-law - two people that are never seen in the movie. It's there to basically tell us how one woman was able to affect one of the most notorious gunfighters the west had ever seen (in this movie's universe anyway). The movie ends on a similar note: with the Munny's home, and text describing what happened after the movie's events.
After the preface, we immediately see where the movie is headed; a group of whores offer a reward for anyone who kills two cowboys who sliced and diced one of their own after she laughed at how "small" he was. Word reaches Munny through a young, cocky cowboy who longs to be famous and infamous. Munny, who's apparently not too good of a farmer, opts to go with the kid so as to get a little bit of money so his kids won't suffer much more; he takes an old partner of his along with him - played by Morgan Freeman. They're up against the town sheriff, Lil Bill, played by Gene Hackman (who won an Academy Award for this role).
Through the cast of characters, we see lots of symbolism and metaphors that have come with westerns. The young cocky kid believes that killing the two cowboys will not only be easy, but bring him fame and prestige. There is a biographer of a known gunman, whose novels are exaggerated and inaccurate. The sheriff's deputies are cowardly and mostly inept. Lil Bill is able to set the biographer straight; telling him that his novel depicting a gunfighter as a hero is basically crap and that killing a man is no easy feat. Eventually the brash wannabe also gets a real tough lesson about "real life."
And while how this movie is telling us that the West is tough, that killing is hard, it's not how it is in the dime novels, and what not - every time Will Munny's name and/or his exploits are brought up, it seems exactly like it is in the dime novels. This is one of my favorite aspects of the movie; while the novels, young up-and-comers, and biographers are over-exaggerating stories, it seems Munny's adventures are under-exaggerated. This dichotomy is one of the subtle things that makes this movie such a great classic.
The movie's stance on violence and killing is also an understated point. The goal of several of the characters is to kill two cowboys; the town sheriff is trying to prevent any potential assassins from entering the town armed. He doesn't want the boys killed (obviously), so he intimidates those he believes to be killers by kicking their ass. There's an engaging scene of him beating down a known gunfighter that he knows is there for the "job;" I'm convinced it's the scene that won Hackman the Academy Award. The sheriff also explains how killing somebody isn't that easy; there are also scenes in which William Munny shares his stance on killing people, giving some of the truest lines anyone has ever spoken, such as "Hell of a thing killin' a man . . . take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have."
The movie's finale is arguably one of the most gripping of all time. Up until the end we see what William Munny has become after meeting and marrying a fine woman, who taught him the "error of his ways." At the end, we see what he was, a killer, and how good a killer he was. We see while the lessons of Lil Bill and how killing a man was hard were true for most people, William Munny was the exception. It's a slow build up - starting with Munny taking some whiskey for the first time since forever, and his showdown with the townsfolk. It's a scene where you can't take your eyes away.
Along with all the symbolism, characters, finale, and everything, the movie also showcases some beautiful cinematography. Scenes lit by campfire, some snowy landscapes, and even the protagonists riding through the rain make for some beautiful shots. It was nominated for Best Cinematography, but did walk away with Best Picture, Director (Eastwood), Supporting Actor, and Editing at the 1993 Academy Awards. When people think westerns, Unforgiven is rarely the first that come to mind, but it is the first to come to my mind when I think of the genre. It is my favorite movie and has been for years.
Terrific review, enjoyed reading it. Im suprised the Academy went for such a dark film over the sentimental mush like A Few Good Men and Scent of a Woman. This is by far one of their best decisions, a film with an engaging yet dark tale, with interesting and complex characters.
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