Starring: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Gene Hackman
Director: Clint Eastwood
Mood: If you’re really feeling your age and your aching body is trying to give up and you need a Western that will give you a reason to go on.
“It’s a hell of a thing killing a man. Take away all he’s got. And all he’s ever gonna have.”Will Munny (Clint Eastwood)
I regret every decision in my life that led to me not seeing Unforgiven until now.
I probably shied away from it because everyone described it as a ‘Clint Eastwood movie’. I didn’t have an opinion on Clint Eastwood, so that didn’t sway me to watch it. The only reason I even put it on last night was because I was cruising my Western collection backward alphabetically, and Unforgiven was the only DVD in its row that I had never watched.
THIS MOVIE IS SO GODDAMN GOOD! I was literally on the edge of my seat. I mean, I’m a naturally tense person so I do tend to clench… but no exaggeration, I was anxiously perched on the couch cushion and leaning toward the TV for at least an hour.
Unforgiven takes place in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, in 1880. Two rough cowboys are in a brothel, and one viciously attacks a prostitute named Delilah (Anna Thomson) for giggling at his tiny pecker. He slices up her face with a knife. Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) is called, and his idea of justice is to order the cowboys to bring the brothel owner some horses to make up for damaging his ‘property’.
The other women are outraged at being valued less than horses. They pool together $1,000 to pay anyone who will kill the cowboys. The bounty catches the attention of English Bob (Sir Richard Harris), a crack shot who arrives in town with a biographer in tow. Unfortunately for Bob, Sheriff Daggett kicks his ass and the biographer ditches him to fawn over the bigger, badder man.
The next man to chase the bounty is ‘The Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett), a cocky youth who thinks he can get the job done – with the help of notorious retired outlaw Bill Munny (Eastwood). At first Bill says no, but he’s so poor he can barely feed his two kids. He agrees, but not without his former partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).
The trouble is, Munny is VERY F*CKING RETIRED. You see Eastwood getting knocked over repeatedly by his hogs, unable to shoot a can at close range, and struggling to mount his horse. This isn’t the typical story of a man who comes out of retirement and can do everything perfectly after one round of practice. The entire movie is a struggle, which is what makes it so captivating.
The first thing that grabbed me about Unforgiven was the cinematography. I’ve always thought the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was the perfect era for Western films, because the style and technology were higher quality than the ‘70s, but not overly polished CGI like what we have now.
Unforgiven is exactly that – the action scenes are clean and realistic, while the scenic views give you that dry, crusty feel. There’s a particularly beautiful shot of Eastwood staring at a shot glass, sweating and trembling as he fights his inner demons.
And there are so many great little details, like how at the end he mounts his horse without difficulty and that one action speaks to his journey. The movie also starts and ends with the same shot, which was a cool symbolic touch.
The whole thing just felt so flawlessly Western.
Unforgiven also shines in its storytelling. Every scene in the first thirty minutes has new characters and exciting action that keeps you riveted. I was honestly surprised that someone who made a career as a manly man could direct a movie that beautifully depicts close male friendships, sentimental conversations, vulnerability, and strong women.
Eastwood’s performance as Bill is so impressive. Now I get why people love him. Watching him push his tired body and mind beyond his limits was somehow both haunting and empowering. He also wore the same boots that he wore on Rawhide in 1959, which is yet another little symbolic detail that makes this movie so f*cking awesome.
Morgan Freeman as Ned is the perfect counterpart. He’s cool, observant, and super chill on horseback, while Clint’s character is having flashbacks and falling apart. He has this way of looking like he’s seeing right into a person’s soul, and no one can hide anything from him. Freeman also sports the best facial hair in the film.
And then all of a sudden his character asks Clint Eastwood’s if he jacks off. Not even kidding. It’s a little moment of unexpected awkward cinematic hilarity between two powerhouse actors.
Jaimz Woolvet’s performance as ‘The Schofield Kid’ was super interesting because it wasn’t the typical comic relief. Yes, it often felt like Bill and Ned were babysitting an annoying kid. But he also got this rich story, and towards the end you see this raw vulnerability that makes him different from other cute, cocky Western dudes
And as always, I was instantly terrified of Gene Hackman and spent the whole movie desperately hoping someone would kill him. His Sheriff Daggett is arrogant, brutal, sinister, and all other things villainous – classic Hackman. I’m sure he’s played something other than a scary bully, but no movies come to mind…
Unforgiven won Eastwood his first Oscar, for directing, plus both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Hackman won a slew of awards for his role (okay, he’s not scary at all and kind of adorably awkward in his acceptance speech), and the movie also earned awards for writing and cinematography. It’s only the third Western to ever win Best Picture, but it’s so powerful that it was obviously deserved. This is as much a piece of cinematic art as it is a Western.
But make no mistake – it’s a proper f*cking Western on every level.