Let’s Talk About… ‘Unforgiven’ (1992)

Film #55 in FilmExodus’ AFI 100 Movies

Every week FilmExodus does a review/analysis of a different cinematic masterpiece from AFI’s 100 Movies 2007 updated list. For a complete overview and how you can participate, click here.

I kept thinking about this in-depth review I needed to write about Unforgiven, but it doesn’t need that.  The movie can be as surface or as deep as the viewer desires.  That is what makes the movie so enjoyable for me.  The movie doesn’t tell you everything about Bill Munny’s (Clint Eastwood) history.  We learn bits and pieces along the way but most is left to the imagination.  It can be broken down into a film about a man that is trying to make money and provide a better life for his family by doing the thing he is really good at, all the while struggling with the inner demons of his past and the loss of his wife.  It is a classic western with the wide, open range shots, some fight sequences that would be considered very slow compared to newer westerns, and a LOT of Clint Eastwood grumbling, who wouldn’t love that!?

Quick Synopsis

In the town of Big Whisky, some cowboys cut up some prostitute’s face.  The Sheriff is Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) and does nothing to the cowboy.  The prostitutes pool their money to put out a bounty for the cowboy.  The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett)) takes the contract looking to make a name for himself and asks Bill Munny to join.  Munny’s wife has died, he sucks at farming, and he has two kids who would be better off in a city, so he enlists his old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to join as well.  Story ensues.

At the very beginning of the movie you get a written scroll with a beautiful backdrop of Munny’s farm with his wife’s grave under the only tree.  As stated earlier, his history is vague and mostly told in stories.  They serve as hints as to what he was like as a young man and they never paint a pretty picture; he pretty much murdered and killed anything in his path it would seem.  The reoccurring theme is that Munny’s wife saved him from this life of murdering and thieving where he claims to have been drunk most of the time.  Either way, Munny doesn’t believe himself to be a good man; to him the only redeeming quality in his life was his wife.  Before he fights Little Bill, Munny has a quote that sums up what he is or used to be:

“That’s right. I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another.  And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”

Whatever you may think of Eastwood, his movies are always good for some dam good quotes.  This quote, along with agreeing with Little Bill that he will see him in hell, shows that Munny has come to terms with how horrible he was in his younger days.  His past haunts him in his dreams as he sees people that he as his killed, the angel of death, and even his late wife.

Characters

The other characters in the movie have great little side stories such as the Schofield Kid not being able to see long distances, Ned no longer having the stomach for this sort of thing, and old English Bob’s short visit to Big Whisky.  It’s entertaining and adds realism to the supporting cast through character arcs.  But Eastwood’s Bill Munny carries the load here and the supporting cast just adds to his character.

The Schofield Kid realizes soon after actually killing a man and seeing him die that he wasn’t cut out for, nor wanted the gunslinger life.  This is a portrayal of people thinking they know what they really want, but only finding out it wasn’t.  He also didn’t understand the long term effects of achieving this goal.  His actual near-sightedness vision drives this home even further because he wants to be Munny but isn’t really seeing what that life has done to him in the long term, even though he is right next to him.

Ned is similar to Munny in that he has settled down and lives a peaceful life.  In realizing his age and what he has back home, Ned no longer wants to be a part of that life.  While Munny respects this, sadly he is the one that is executed for their contract.  Munny has very few friends but his lifestyle will inadvertently find the ones he cares about hurt or dead.  Like Munny, Ned was no angel in his earlier life but he would end up dying for Munny’s actions and not his own.

English Bob (Richard Harris) serves as the embellished story teller, or the “shit-talker.”  Always talking about his own exploits, even enlisting a biographer to write his stories.  His stories and ego are quickly put to rest when he meets an even crueler man in the form of Little Bill, who quickly puts him in his place.

Little Bill is the ultimate antagonist, cut from the same hard regions of Munny.  He is a cold, calculated killer/leader and knows his limits and how to best use them to his advantage.  However, even with overwhelming numbers and more gun fighting knowledge, he was still bested by Munny.

It would seem that Munny is cursed to be a gunslinger and everything that comes with it.  Those around him die and his past continually haunts him.  All the bad that occurs he believes to be payback for his past transgressions.  He mentions this when first getting on his horse that never wants him in the saddle the entire movie.  With that said, he is dam good at what he does without even knowing it.  He couldn’t hit a tin can 10 feet away with his pistol before he set off on this journey.  He could barely get on his horse and he nearly died from the cold rain.  By all accounts he had no business killing Little Bill or any of his cohorts.  In his words regarding gun fights to the biographer:

“I was lucky in the order, but I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killin’ folks.”

The movie ends as it began, which I loved, with a written scroll on Munny’s farm, essentially asking why such a wonderful woman would ever love Bill Munny.  It comes full circle.  So it could be asked if the karma that seems to follow Munny is over?  Can he ever escape his past transgressions or who he really is?  All questions left to the viewer.

As I stated in the first paragraph, the movie can be as superficial or as in depth as you like, it really just depends on the viewer.  Whether you enjoy westerns or not, I’d recommend the film for these reasons alone.  Clint Eastwood is Clint Eastwood, what you see is what you get but it just fucking works.  The supporting cast is great, especially Gene Hackman and Richard Harris.

Favorite quote

Bill Munny:

“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man.  Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have”

Thank you

Thank you Duke, DBMI, and everyone else on this site for giving general commenters, such as myself, the opportunity to participate and do some movie reviews.  I am getting more comfortable, but these reviews took a lot of effort for me and made me really appreciated all the work and time everyone puts into the site.  Thanks again.

Trailer