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USA 1992
Directed by
Clint Eastwood
131 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Unforgiven

Although Eastwood had made some commendable films prior to it (notably Bird, 1988, and White Hunter, Black Heart, 1990) Unforgiven, at once, a finely-crafted Hollywood film (it won four Oscars including Best Picture) and a deconstructing rather than regurgitating of Western myths put him in the major league where he has pretty much stayed ever since.

Unforgiven is a Western that takes the kind of outsider gunslinger screen fantasy that Eastwood had built his career on, notably as The Man With No Name and in the"Dirty" Harry films and shows it to be a hollow illusion, built on cowardice, lies and brutality. There are no good guys, just a kind of dog-eat-dog fatalism that strips the Old West of its nostalgic glamour, peddled here by writer, W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). In this respect the film might well be considered a hunourless follow-up to Altman's McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), a film with which Eastwood was probably familiar.

Eastwood plays William Munne, a former badman who has reformed and is struggling to make a go of it as a farmer with his two young children, his wife having died of smallpox. When "The Schofield Kid" (Jaimz Woolvett) turns up and invites Munney to accompany him to Big Whiskey where some prostitutes have put up a $1000 contract to have a couple of cowboys killed, he at first demurs but then, driven by desperation, changes his mind collects his old partner (Morgan Freeman) and heads for Big Whiskey. This is the core story although a good deal of the film is given over to a secondary issue involving the arrival of a hired gun, English Bob (Richard Harris) and his run in with the no-nonsense town sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman)..

Little Bill is really the linchpin of the film. He is at once both a dedicated protector of the law and a brutal enforcer of it and is fundamental to everything that occurs. Without him, Unforgiven would have been a much more straightforward film. Eastwood however brings it to life with fine directorial judgement that well displays his familiarity with the tropes of the genre. Heading up his seasoned cast, Hackman (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) and Harris are both excellent whilst Eastwood does a superb job of portraying the fatalistic Munney. The film was a break-out role for Morgan Freeman who has played a similar type of character innumerable times since.

The fine cinematography by Jack Green, who had lensed both Bird and White Hunter Black Heart and the well-turned script by David Webb Peoples. writer of Blade Runner, 1992 also help to make this, explicit violence aside, a beautifully economical Western in the classic studio tradition.

 

 

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