All Right, Gentlemen! He's Got One Barrel Left: Unforgiven (1992)

One is quite hard pressed to find a genre more challenged by the elusiveness of critical acclaim than that of the western, in fact, if one were to not include No Country for Old Men as a pseudo-western then only three Westerns, to date, have received a Best Picture award at the Oscars, one being the very excellent and incredibly watchable Unforgiven, by Clint Eastwood a director I find myself appreciate more and more with each film I watch of his, especially those of the Western persuasion.  I am quite aware that in terms of "respectability" as a film genre, Westerns certainly fair much better than say the horror film, but I feel it necessary to remind readers that the horror film was born and exists in a world of low-budget and in a counter culture vacuum as well, whereas the western is a thing of prestige, often requiring an insane budget, a set of well-established actors to assure ticket sales, not to mention some rather versatile filming equipment.  Of course, in 1992, Clint Eastwood was still finding himself as a director, far from the assumed respect attached to him for films like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino and certainly earlier than his masterful romantic drama The Bridges of Madison County, yet to call Unforgiven a outright Western is to misuse the term, since it both adheres to the traditions of the genre, as well as completely turning them on their heads as necessary.  The inclusion of persons of color and women into central plot points are only the beginning of the revolutionary elements within Unforgiven, a film that manages to contest the entire notion of what constitutes certifiable good and to what degree a persons past should have on their engagements years down the road.  Between the moments of broad cinematic landscapes and one of the most magnificent casts ever assembled for a Western that did not have the world "magnificent" in its title, Unforgiven is not only what a person would come to desire out of a contemporary Western, but, more importantly, what they seek in an exceptionally good film as well.

The film intertwines various narratives beginning with the events at a "billiards room," a term intended to refer to a brothel, in which one woman's face is horribly scarred simply for her giggling at one customers lack of endowment, leading to the town sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) demanding that the perpetrators promise to bring back a set of horses to the women at the brothel as a form of payment for their wrongdoing.  This retribution is deemed quite unfit in the eyes of the women and the go about hiring a bounty hunter known as The Scofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to kill the man and his pal in retribution.  The Scofield Kid realizes that the task is quite difficult given that the men he is to kill are in their own right quite keen on murder, leading to his attempt to bring former assassin Will Munny (Clint Eastwod) out of retirement.  Will, who is still reeling from the death of his wife quite a few years back has all but vowed never to pick up a gun again, a life choice he associates with his past alcoholism and debauchery prior to meeting his late wife.  Yet, when informed of the high award along with his own disdain for his life as a pig farmer, Will takes up the job, but not before asking for the help of his former partner and equally infamous assassin Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).  While The Scofield Kid is initially hesitant of the extra help he realizes how integral firepower will be in making sure of their success.  Of course they are not the only individuals seeking the reward and must come to odds with English Bob (Richard Harris) and his biographer, who after English Bob is sent out of town decides to stay about and chronicle the exploits of Bill.  A series of misplaced attacks and failures at killing their target lead to Ned deciding to leave the task and return home, unfortunately, Bill has decided to make an example of him and kills Ned leaving him on display in the village as a warning against assassins entering the town.  Enraged Will returns to the town and shoots Bill, as well as his lackeys down, already possessing the money from the kill.  Will then returns to his life of solitude, although viewers are led to believe that he has done so with the addition of some much needed adult companionship.

This fim takes a handful of the elements of Western films as a skeleton for the plot and cinematic relationship between viewer and film.  For example, there is clearly a unwritten code of ethics helping individuals navigate the wild horizons, whether it be a code of honesty concerning bringing weapons into towns, or the notion of a ceasefire, in order to allow a dying man to enjoy a last drink of water.  Eastwood's familiarity with the genre explodes of the screen, apparent in many of the shootouts as wel as the sets, props and landscapes occupying the space.  Of course, as I noted earlier it is not what Eastwood does within the tradition that is worth considering, but what he does to reconsider it that seems so important.  Firstly, he incorporates a black character into the narrative a thing that may seem redundant now, but as an undergraduate history teacher helped me understand the notion of the black cowboy was very much a part of the world of the American West and proves to still be one of the most ignored and purposefully overlooked elements of the time and place.  Yet, it is also Eastwood's fascination with pride, memory, and glory as they relate to an individuals methods of law enforcement.  Bill is by no means a wholly evil character, but the way he uses the townsfolk and the bodies of others (figuratively and literally) to create his messages evoke the images of a corrupt politician much more son than that of a just deputy, his depicted job within the onset of the film narrative.  In fact, one could make an argument that Bill exists as a sole character of moral certainty.  Bill only agrees to take back the act of assassination as a means to assure safety for his children, yet his paternal performance also extends to The Scofield Kid when necessary and the constant referral to him as an old man take on greater meaning in this context.  It is clearly Will's age that allows him to reflect on the absurdity of human violence and aggression, although as his actions show, wrongdoing always needs to be met with justice, regardless of one's personal attachment.

Key Scene:  A riding scene between Eastwood and Freeman in which the use of hands factors heavily into the conversation as a hilarious moment, so perfected that it almost seemed out of place.

Buy this on Bluray it really pops of the screen in fiery, almost incandescent manner and certainly proves necessary for any burgeoning Western collection.  Not to mention it is super cheap.

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