Western movies open our eyes to vast landscapes, interesting characters and a deep story that somehow feels like the Old West while feeling relevant to today. Clint Eastwood who is best known for his early works in the Western genre such as the Dollars Trilogy and The Outlaw Josey Wales returned 25 years ago on August 7th to bring his last Western to the big screen. Unforgiven was well received by critics and won four Academy Awards which included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman and Best Film Editing for Joel Cox. Apart from major awards, Unforgiven was named the 4th Best Western Film by AFI and was admitted to the National Film Registry in 2004. I do enjoy western films due to its gritty characters, the fact that it takes place during a different time and the idea of returning to the Old West is something that is quite exciting.
Unforgiven tells the story of William Munny (Clint Eastwood), an outlaw who works as a farmer with his children, who is recruited to find and kill two men who brutally attacked a prostitute at a local town. He is reunited with an old friend of his Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) before being urged to go after the men by a young gunslinger (Jaimz Woolvett). The opening of the film is violent, shocking, and sets in motion a wild ride full of revelations, tough decisions and looking back on the life that you lived beforehand. A bounty is put on the men Quick Mike and Davey Bunting (David Mucci and Rob Campbell) by the other prostitutes after Sheriff “Little”€ Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) allows them to pay the owner of the brothel for the attack of the prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Levine) and flee town.
I like the idea of the young gunslinger finding Munny after hearing the infamous stories and legends that are associated with him. He was known to kill anyone and for that he was feared but he’s now a changed man, a damaged man. When the bounty is announced, Munny is the first one to be visited. Another one who goes after the reward is English Bob (played perfectly by the late Richard Harris) and he friend W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). When Bob enters the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming where the men were last scene and the location of where Delilah was attacked, he’s savagely beaten by Sheriff Daggett to let the townspeople know that assassins or would be killers are not tolerated in his town. There’s even a sign that states that no firearms are allowed in the town.
The acting is very good in this film especially from Eastwood, Freeman, and Hackman. They are very interesting characters but something struck me while I was watching the film. Being a little over two hours in length, the film felt overlong and overstuffed with too much involved in its story. I really enjoyed the scenes where Eastwood would reflect on the things that he did and how his wife had helped him become a different person, and now that she was gone, all he had was his home and his children. The bounty is $1,000 for the murder of the two men, and Munny really needs the money. He’s left his criminal life behind to spend with his family and this is one job that he doesn’t want to take but does because he needs to for his kids.
The parts that are lacking in this film are the scenes that involve English Bob. The late Richard Harris did a great job portraying his character only for him to exit the film without meeting the main characters except for the Sheriff. Plus, his character is only used to show us the force of the Sheriff who dismisses the stories that English Bob would boast about. He’s character was interesting to watch and the fact that he disappears from the film is something that displeased me deeply. When I say the film feels overstuffed it seems that too many subplots were in this film. We have the attack on Delilah, the hunt for the men who are responsible, the tough nature of the Sheriff who’s building himself a house and the scenes involving the other prostitutes who are mad about the injustice.
Eastwood handles the film like a Western which is nice. There’s not much action and when there is it’s not in the Hollywood style of over-the-top violence. My problem with the film is that it drags and drags. There is no character development of the men who attack Delilah or even the prostitutes who are pleading for the men’s deaths. At least, I would’ve felt something about them if I knew something about them. They are in the film to further the plot along. Also, not to mention English Bob is removed from the film in such a feeble way that I felt robbed of investing my time with his character.
I watched this film for the first time the other day with a friend who highly praised it and while I can appreciate how Eastwood filmed the movie while not resorting to wild action scenes or characters being involved in a romance that would feel forced, it doesn’t change the way that I felt about the film. The ending shootout is well done and the reason for that scene doesn’t seem to fit the character that meets a cruel demise. After watching the film, I felt cheated. I invested my time into getting to know these characters and in the end, I felt disappointed. I wasn’t expecting lots of gunfights or wise-cracking jokes. I wanted a story that I could feel immersed in and Unforgiven had the potential, but in the end, the film felt boring and largely uninspired. I suppose that Western films have a certain niche but compared to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and even The Magnificent Seven; Unforgiven is a decent Western film but one that I would not consider a classic.
For me, a film should have a compelling story, great characters, and scenes in the movie that I would remember long after I’ve viewed the film. Unforgiven has none of that and even though I’ve never seen the Dollars Trilogy, even though Eastwood dedicated this film to Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, I’ve heard better things about those films than from the experience I had with this film. That’s not to say that Unforgiven is an awful film, it’s just one that I couldn’t recommend for others to watch because I think there are ones that are far more memorable.