DAVID WEBB PEOPLES
Apart from John Wayne, it would be safe to assume that Clint Eastwood is the biggest and best western movie star to have walked the planet. From his work in Fistful of Dollars through to Pale Rider, Eastwood has given a number of memorable performances within the western genre, while also establishing himself as a solid director.
Yet his best, most personal work as both an actor and director can be found in the dark and sombre western classic, Unforgiven, Eastwood’s tribute and farewell to the western, which addresses the myths and legends found within the genre, and treats violence in a very realistic light.
The film begins in the town of Big Whisky. A prostitute has her face slashed by a cowboy, who took exception to her making fun of his genitalia. The towns Sheriff “Little” Bill (Gene Hackman), a man of stern authority and sadistic brutality, lets the man and his partner go, only after they promise to pay the prostitutes’ pimp seven ponies for damaging his “merchandise”.
Outraged at Little Bill’s decision, the rest of the prostitutes gather all of their funds and send out word that a bounty of $1000 has been placed on the head of their friends’ attacker and his partner.
William Munny (Clint Eastwood) - a notorious killer who has since changed his ways thanks to the guidance of his late wife – is approached by enthusiastic young up start, the Schofiled Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), to partner up and take on the bounty. With his wife gone, his pigs dying of fever and two young children to feed, Munny agrees, convincing his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to accompany them.
Meanwhile, the cocky British gunslinger known as English Bob (Richard Harris) has just entered Big Whisky to claim the bounty for his own.
David Webb Peoples’ screenplay offers a fresh perspective to a world full of many mythical figures, especially that of the gunslinger. Long time Eastwood cinematographer Jack N. Green provides dark, vibrant images which compliments the films pensive tone. Set design, costumes and editing are also great.
While many westerns glorify violence, Unforgiven is anti-violence. Each disturbing kill is enhanced by anguished cries of mercy, and are often followed by tragic repercussions. The influence of alcohol towards violence is also explored, as all of Munny’s infamous killing sprees were done when drunk, the demon drink no doubt giving rise to his murderous rage.
Eastwood gives a magnificent performance as Munny, perhaps the western genre’s darkest and most complex character. Throughout the film, the viewer is told of Munny’s infamous killing rampages, which include the deaths of women and children. At first it is hard to believe that such an old, beaten down man could be responsible for such atrocities. But during the films final scenes, the Munny of old re-merges from the depths of hell in a tense, gripping piece of cinema.
Gene Hackman’s domineering screen presence is put to good use, while Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris provide solid supporting performances.