Unforgiven (1992) (R)
"Unforgiven" is the first of Clint Eastwood's big splashes at the Academy Awards, the second being "Million Dollar Baby". Whether it's unfortunate or not, it was just the way things rolled out for me that I saw "Million Dollar Baby" first and then "Unforgiven". While you do try to watch each movie with only the singular in mind, you can't help but compare to other movies...and in this case, I'm sorry, I though "Million Dollar Baby" was better.
But that was a long time ago and rewatching "Unforgiven" with other of Eastwood's movies in mind, I find the most similar movie is "High Plains Drifter" instead.
Nailing the final coffin in what we might term the "modern western", "Unforgiven" marks the end of a generation for at least another decade when the Coen brother and Paul Thomas Anderson revolutionized a new sub-genre. It's a nasty piece about justice and the devil...it feels that way at least.
What is perhaps the most curious aspect of "Unforgiven" is that it's a narratively very confusing movie for being shot so basically. I'm not being mean and it's actually a compliment, Eastwood is all about the bare necessities—he rarely indulges into the flashy or the melodramatic that you could easily accuse Scorsese of doing.
The movie opens with the acknowledgement of William Munny (Eastwood). He was a notorious criminal and a murderer, and he married a girl of high class—their marriage was not approved by his wife's parents. A few years later, in 1878, Munny's wife dies of smallpox and he is left with two children to care for.
Ah, 1880, in the town of Big Whisky, and whores. "Unforgiven" isn't as crass as "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" with how it treats its livestock; but there is some rash generalizations...yet humanization as well, unlike how its title might imply, it is quite forgivable. At a house of ill repute, a prostitute is slashed viciously across the face with a knife and almost killed before the man who is assaulting her is pulled off her.
Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is the sheriff in the town and he demands that the two responsible for the girl's abuse give the owner of the whore-house some of their horses as recompense for their actions. But to the other whores in the house, this is completely unacceptable. This isn't to say that they aren't blood-hungry; but maybe they are....
In a far off place in the mystical and beautiful American west, Munny is trying to raise hogs with his young children. He is approached by the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) who says that the other whores at this particular institute have rallied together a sum of $1000 and are preparing to pay it to the man or men who kill the two boys who cut up their metaphorical sister.
Little Bill isn't pleased to hear about the reward money as Munny decides that now might be a good time to bring out the guns and stirrups.
Munny fetches his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and the two try to catch up with the Schofield Kid and collect the reward.
But this is no country for old men, and times have changed quite a bit. After eleven years and seeing no action, William and Ned realize that they might be in too deep; but they won't be turning back, because they need the money.
They make an odd group, the three bounty hunters as they trek across the landscape.
The west looks quite nice and almost haunting in "Unforgiven", though it doesn't match John Ford's "The Searchers".
As they get closer to their money and Little Bill gets crazier (he runs into an old nemesis), we start to realize that this won't be as nicely straight forward that everyone thought it might be.
"Unforgiven" gets quite twisted and its hellish imagery increase near the end.
What it doesn't manage to do is to convince all of us, the viewers, that it is a horror movie. It should be a horror movie; but it's not. Instead, it's some kind of religious, moralistic, beyond reproach, justice piece and at that it is fascinating.
But....it's just not enough to elevate it that final step like we saw in "High Plains Drifter", so while it should be viewed as its own movie, if you have a choice between the two, go for old school Eastwood.
Posted by Micah Jones