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....and now I'm here to kill you Little Bill.......,
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This review is from: Unforgiven (Snap Case) (DVD)
Clint Eastwood held onto the David People's script for Unforgiven for over 10 years. Knowing it was something special, he wanted to be mature enough, as both an actor and a director, to do it justice. It was a wise decision.
Eastwood aged into the character of William Munny, chiseled, worn-looking, and I was quite surprised at how well he did with the role. Munny is a haunted man, burdened with the memories of a violent past and the ghosts of many murders. His denials "I was drunk" or "I don't remember" are belied by the guilty flicks of his eyes or the thousand yard stare when memory does come back "remember that drover I shot...whose teeth came out the back of this neck? He didn't do anything....". It is all there in Eastwood's face and eyes when later in the film in his fever delirium William Munny sees the Hell he fears is waiting for him for his sins.
Reformed by a beloved wife, now dead, and raising 2 children on a failing pig farm, Munny and his old partner Ned (Morgan Freeman) are lured out of retirement for one more killing for money. But these old outlaws are different men now, older & tired and domesticated, and it seems unlikely they can do the job. We, like their young gunsel partner, the Scofield Kid, can't see the legendary hell-raiser and killer Munny in this haggard old man.
I note that some were put-off by Unforgiven, expecting a Clint Eastwood type western. Unforgiven really isn't a typical Western...it is more a character study wrapped in a meditation on violence.
The violence in Unforgiven is not stylized or glamorized. When the gunfighter English Bob (Richard Harris) gets the living tar kicked out of him by the sheriff Little Bill Dagget (Gene Hackman), he doesn't pop-up all fine an hour later. Instead he is layed-up in a jail cell, bloody, swollen, and in pain. When Little Bill dishes out the same to Eastwood later, William Munny is out for days and is scabbed and scarred afterward. When Eastwood ambushes a cowboy, he dies slowly, in thirst and in pain. When Little Bill starts in on Ned, we and he know that it will be a long night of torture and pain. When the Scofield Kid shoots a man in the privy, he is sickened by it and so should we be.
Violence begets more violence. From the initial cutting of the prostitute that sets it all in motion, to the beatings and shootings, the violence here only causes more violence and most of it out of proportion to the crime and most of it, even the sanctioned violence of the Law, has little or nothing to do with justice.
Gene Hackman's Little Bill Dagget is a sadistic bully with a badge, his amiable facade masks a ruthless and mean killer. The bemused twinkle in his eye can turn to a savage taunt in an instant. He enjoys beating people just a little too much, and he has the town cowed under his benevolent tyranny. Hackman is great and deserved his Oscar.
The only nod to the conventions of the Western is in the last act, but we are ready for it. As William Munny swigs the first whiskey he's had since his wife reformed him we watch him become distant, stronger, icier and resolved, the legendary stone-cold killer we've been hearing about throughout the movie is now before us and out for revenge.
The rainy ride into town and the total surprise of the laughing and confident posse-in-the-making, the cool malevolence... "he better arm himself if he's going to decorate his saloon with my friend"... and the chaotic, awkward, chance and luck shootout that kills the guilty and the innocent indiscriminately, caps the theme of the film... "deserve's got nothin to do with it". Violence is just violence, it is haphazard and unfair. It isn't pretty and it isn't justice.
And killers leave death in their wake and go on to "prosper in Dry Goods".
This is a beautifully realized film with a great cast. Eastwood's direction is fine. His pacing here is deliberate, but may be off-putting to those expecting a more action-oriented film. This is a mature work, it improves on repeat viewings. Each scene fits to lay the foundation for the climactic confrontation,which is one of the best ever. The dialogue is nuanced and revealing of character and motivation. This is first-rate filmaking.