To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the international release of Clint Eastwood‘s self-written and directed, Oscar winning Unforgiven, we delve in and ask, is it still any good?Some country and westerns from decades past do not age well. Unforgiven is the exception to the rule. Potently acted, immersive in execution, Eastwood’s man with no name western ages more like a fine wine than the most bougey of French reserves.
Eastwood plays a weathered and worn down hog farmer, William Munny (he was 62 at the time of filming) with a secret outlaw past. His late wife reformed him you see, and they started a family together of two young children and a couple of pigs before she died not too long after her second kid. All of this is intimated in the conversations Munny has with himself, his former partner-in-crime (Morgan Freeman as Ned, still good with a gun), and a bright upstart called Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) whose enthusiasm for the gun slinging days past (which predate him) becomes purposefully irritating. Kid turns up at Munny’s property dangling a big juicy carrot: the $1000 bounty on the lives of two criminals. Two criminals who slashed up a prostitute in a town called Big Whiskey, just far enough away for about an hour of horse riding and talking as exposition.
Initially reluctant to join Kid, declaring his past life dead to him, Munny relents, leaving his two young children to tend to the hogs and be watched over by the caring if non-existent eye of their mother’s spirit. This was the only part that caused a head cock of confusion, but also, it was the Wild West, that was probably just what happened. Ghost babysitters etc.
Munny enlists the help of his old gun slinging pal Ned to help him track down the knife wielding, woman slashing cowboys, and claim the bounty so they can all live happily after.
Except a happily ever after isn’t executed in precisely the story-telling-fashion we’re used to with contemporary Hollywood.
The law men of Big Whiskey where said prostitute-slashing occurred, create one of the morally skewiff compasses of the film. Gene Hackman plays Little Bill Daggett the Big Whiskey sheriff, not entirely morally bankrupt, but quick to whip wrong doers into line (literally). A run in with an exceptional Richard Harris (the first and most excellent Dumbledore) reveals just how incensed Little Bill is that bounty hunters are flocking to his town. A bashing occurs, an exile enforced, and a ban on all firearms coming into town is put in place. This makes it more than a little difficult for Munny, Ned and Kid to stroll into town to gather information, before going hunting for criminals.
Unforgiven is long. A lot of conversations are had during the over two hour run-time. But not a single one should be cut. Each serves a purpose for crafting complex character identities and meaningful interpersonal crises. It is definitely worth the revisit (or first-time viewing if you were only 2 like me when it first came out), so why don’t you treat yourself to a bit of a Western tonight, after watching Game Of Thrones of course.
What do you think of Clint’s classic? Does it make you want to head West or give up the guns for good? Sound off in the comments below or on our Facebook page.