Ned, you remember that drover I shot through the mouth and his teeth came out the back of his head? I think about him now and again. He didn’t do anything to deserve to get shot, at least nothin’ I could remember when I sobered up. -William Munny, Unforgiven
May 31st marks Clint Eastwood’s 84th birthday and it’s always exciting to talk about this man, watching those films such as the Man with No Name in the Sergio Leone spaghetti western trilogy “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”, followed by Eastwood’s stateside breakthrough would come as hard-nosed cop inspector in the “Dirty Harry” series, then his directorial venture with the thriller “Play Misty for Me.” He earned a pair of Best Director/Best Picture Oscars for his 1992 film “Unforgiven” and the 2004 “Million Dollar Baby,” receiving his only two Best Actor nominations in each and to be clear-cut, he is an absolute game changer and an immeasurable movie maker of our times, the charismatic actor and his influence for last five decades are phenomenal in the history of cinema.
‘Unforgiven’ set in the year 1880 marks a pragmatic reflection on the past, and takes place at a time when gunslingers had lived long past by their prime. Those characters warped into ease, and what might be called as simpler lives, as some men escape the violence of their former selves to settle down, the others celebrate their exploits of being living legends and so on.
Clint Eastwood with his incisive temperance and benevolence- Unforgiven adopts an edifice to reassess our perception of the American West. It is significant in both the historical and in autobiographical milieu. Unforgiven in a way is different, looking at this story and its intonation, stands a quintessence of praiseworthy, unorthodox in the genre. Many critics regarded the films contemptuous critique of violence as lethal and were unsure about whether the film either marks the end of the genre or the beginning of something new. There is close to the agreement that it aims to overturn the inevitabilities of the classical form of the Western genre.
‘Unforgiven’ was released in the year 1992, the larger part of Eastwood’s career as an actor and filmmaker relied on his status as a masculine protagonist in violent, escapist action films where, along with Eastwood himself, characters like Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name became screen icons. With this film, Eastwood redefines his onscreen and off-screen persona by stirring so much of uncertainty into traditional Western epitomes, and in doing so the film questions the history of the American West and besides Eastwood’s own role in defining the West in cinema.
The plot begins with the group of prostitutes in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, led by Strawberry Alice ( Frances Fisher), offer a $1,000 reward to whoever can kill Quick Mike( David Mucci) and “Davey-Boy” Bunting (Rob Campbell), two cowboys who disfigured Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Levine), one of their own. The local sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a former gunfighter and keeper of the peace, is worried about their incentive, as he does not allow guns or criminals in his town. Little Bill had given the two men leniency, despite their crime.
Miles away in Kansas, the Schofield Kid, a boastful young man, visits the pig farm of William Munny (Eastwood), seeking to recruit him to kill the cowboys. In his youth, Munny was a bandit notorious as a cold-blooded murderer. Now a repentant widower raising two children, he has sworn off alcohol and killing. Though Munny initially refuses to help with the execution, his farm is failing, putting his children’s future in jeopardy. Munny reconsiders a few days later and sets off to catch up with Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett). On his way, Munny recruits Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), another retired gunfighter, who leaves his wife to go along.
Back in Wyoming, gunfighter English Bob (played by Richard Harris) and his biographer, W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), arrive in Big Whiskey; also try to find the reward. Little Bill and his deputies disarm Bob, and is beaten savagely by Bill, hoping to discourage others would do the killing. The next morning he banishes Bob from town, but Beauchamp decides to stay and write about Bill. He has impressed the biographer with his tales of old gunfights and seeming knowledge of the inner workings of a gunfighter’s psyche.
Munny, Logan and the Kid arrive later during a rain storm; they go to the saloon to discover the cowboys’ location. With a bad fever after riding in the rain, Munny is sitting alone in the saloon when Little Bill and his deputies arrive to confront him. With no idea of Munny’s past, Little Bill beats him and kicks him out of the saloon after finding a pistol on him. Logan and the Kid, upstairs getting “advances” on their payment from the prostitutes, escape out a back window. The three regroup at a barn outside of town, where they nurse Munny back to health.
Three days later, they ambush a group of cowboys and kill Bunting. Logan and Munny no longer have much stomach for murder. Logan decides to return home while Munny and the Kid head to the cowboys’ ranch, where the Kid ambushes Quick Mike in an outhouse and kills him. After they escape, a distraught Kid confesses he had never killed anyone before. He renounces life as a gunfighter.
When Little Sue (Tara Frederick) meets the two men to give them the reward, they learn that Logan was captured by Little Bill’s men and tortured to death. He revealed the names of his two accomplices. The Kid heads back to Kansas to deliver the reward money to Munny and Logan’s families. Munny drinks a little whisky from Ned’s bottle and heads into town to take revenge on Bill. That night, Logan’s corpse is displayed in a coffin outside the saloon. Inside, Little Bill has assembled a posse to pursue Munny and the Kid. Munny walks in alone and kills Skinny Dubois (Anthony James) who is the saloon owner and pimp.
In the brief tense of interaction, a gunfight results, leaving Bill wounded and several of his deputies dead. Munny orders everyone out before stopping Little Bill from reaching for his pistol. Bill curses Munny before the latter finishes him with a final gunshot. Munny threatens the townsfolk before finally leaving town, warning that he will return if Logan is not buried properly or if any prostitutes are further harmed. Thus the screen reflect the masterful touch in its climax as Eastwood lifts a simple story by going beyond the genre and transforming his film into inordinate art with the vibrant and compassion as his signature. A masterstroke indeed.
‘Unforgiven’ was well acknowledged, and a near-universal commendation. Many critics acclaimed the film for its noir-ish moral ambiguity and atmosphere. They also acclaimed it as a fitting eulogy to the western genre, a finest classical western to come along since perhaps John Ford’s “The Searchers” which was made in 1956. This film also marks a decisive turning point in Eastwood’s career, being the first of many self-reflective, his changing effort and a leap as a film maker has been enormous in the coming years, whether his cinematic autobiography, or an inspirational sports drama, or his stirring soul searching saga or the etched artistic perspective and exploration of values have drawn attention of film goers so much.
From here on out- Eastwood extended and matured as a filmmaker, redefining his awesome screen presence both with his image and acknowledging his age, and escalating his breadth of storytelling as he continues to challenge his presence of willing audience with confronting questions and richly complicated scripts giving us the likes of Mystic River, Million dollar baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Grand Torino, Invictus, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Bridges of Madison County & Hereafter to name a few.
I always believed ‘Unforgiven’ was a great leap forward in the gigantic space of a serious film making and Eastwood’s real defining moment…………
- Written, Produced & Directed by Clint Eastwood
- Co-written by David Webb Peoples
- Starring: Clint Eastwood; Gene Hackman; Morgan Freeman & Richard Harris
- Music by Lennie Niehaus
- Cinematography: Jack N. Green
- Editing by Joel Cox
- Studio: Malpaso Productions
- Distributed by Warner Bros.
- Release dates: August 7, 1992
- Run time of 131 minutes
- Country: United States
- Language: English