Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvett, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Anna Thomson
Written by: David Webb Peoples
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 131
Date: 03/08/1992
IMDB

Unforgiven (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Right on the Munny

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Unforgiven began when writer David Webb Peoples wrote it in the 1970s -- around the same time as other adventurous screenplays like The Conversation, Chinatown, Nashville, Taxi Driver, and Annie Hall were being written.

Francis Coppola found it and kept it for a while. Then it made its way to Clint Eastwood, who was smart enough to recognize what kind of a movie it was and held onto it until he was old enough to play the part of William Munny.

Though the screenplay aged 20 years, it still feels like one of those innovative movies from the 1970s "Renaissance." But in the 1990s it stands alone as a great achievement in American filmmaking.

Munny, his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and a Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) hit the trail to kill, and collect a reward for, a pair of cowboys who cut the face of a prostitute (Anna Thompson). Their trail takes them to the town of Big Whiskey run by sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), who doesn't like guns and uses any means necessary to insure peace.

This movie attempts to question the nature of mythology and legend. Yet, Unforgiven itself is mythical and Eastwood is larger than life, perhaps even the same size as John Wayne once was. And so Unforgiven is to Eastwood what The Searchers was to Wayne.

Eastwood plays perfectly into his own image to make a statement about the nature of violence. The action scenes in Unforgiven are purposely ineffectual; shooting people in outhouses, firing limply at each other from behind rocks. And the reason for the killing is even less concrete -- to avenge a prostitute they have never met.

During the final scene Eastwood storms the town of Big Whiskey and shoots everyone. His eyes are dark and his face is a twisted scowl. His actions are neither skilled nor heroic, but we're left in awe. What is this place -- this old west -- where people like William Munny existed? Unforgiven gets close to answering that question, but better still, it asks it in the first place.

Richard Harris and Saul Rubinek are also among the excellent cast and help to venture into the gray areas of what it means to be good guys and bad guys.

It's not just hyperbole or short memory span to say that Clint Eastwood's most recent Western is one of the greatest films ever made.

I can watch this film over and over again, so it's great to own it on this new tenth anniversary two-DVD set, complete with a commentary track by Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, several short documentaries -- including a brand-new one, and a 1959 TV episode of "Maverick," starring a young Eastwood, who had not yet found his footing.

Warner Home Video released a Blu-Ray edition for the film's 20th anniversary in 2012.

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