Top 100 Movie Review: No. 038 – Unforgiven (1992)

Ranked 038 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017). Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Clint Eastwood (Bill Munny), Gene Hackman (Little Bill Daggett), Morgan Freeman (Ned Logan), Richard Harris (English Bob), Jaimz Woolvett (The ‘Schofield Kid’)
Director:  Clint Eastwood
My rating: 9.5 / 10

In 1880 in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, a cowboy attacks and disfigures a prostitute Delilah with a knife after she laughs at his small penis. The cowboy and his partner are captured.  As punishment, local sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett (Gene Hackman) orders both cowboys to bring several horses as compensation for the brothel owner, Skinny Dubois. The rest of the prostitutes are outraged by the sheriff’s decision, and offer a $1,000 reward to anyone who kills the cowboys.

In Hodgeman County, Kansas, a boastful young man calling himself the “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) visits the pig farm of William Munny (Clint Eastwood), seeking to recruit him to help kill the cowboys and claim the reward. In his youth, Munny was a notorious outlaw and murderer, but he is now a repentant widower raising two children. After initially refusing to help, Munny recognizes that his farm is failing and jeopardising his children’s future, so he reconsiders. Munny recruits his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), another retired outlaw and nearby neighbour, and they catch up with the Kid.  During their journey the Kid keeps asking about Munny’s exploits but he confuses he rarely remembers any of it as he was mostly drunk during these fights.

Back in Wyoming, British-born gunfighter “English Bob” (Richard Harris), an old acquaintance and rival of Little Bill, is also seeking the reward. He arrives in Big Whiskey with a biographer who naively believes Bob’s exaggerated tales of his exploits. Enforcing the town’s anti-gun law, Little Bill and his deputies disarm Bob and Bill beats him savagely, hoping to discourage other would-be assassins from attempting to claim the bounty. Bill ejects Bob from town the next morning, but biographer decides to stay and write about Bill, who debunks many of the romantic notions Beauchamp has about the wild west.

Munny, Logan, and the Kid arrive in town during a rainstorm, and head into the saloon. While Logan and the Kid meet with the prostitutes upstairs, a feverish Munny is sitting alone in the saloon when Little Bill and his deputies confront him. Not realizing Munny’s identity, Bill beats him up and kicks him out of the saloon for carrying a pistol. Logan and the Kid escape through a back window, and the three regroup at a barn outside town, where they nurse Munny back to health over a few days.

A few days later, the trio ambush and kill the cowboy who didn’t hurt the Delilah. Logan, who wounded the cowboy but lost his nerve while attempting to finish him off, resolves to return home; Munny finishes the job using Logan’s rifle. 

Munny and the Kid then head towards the cowboys’ ranch, where the Kid ambushes Quick Mike in an outhouse and kills him. After they escape, a distraught Kid confesses he had never killed anyone before and renounces life as a gunfighter. When one of the prostitutes arrives to give them the reward, they learn that Logan had been captured and tortured to death by Bill, but not before revealing Munny’s identity. The Kid gives Will his revolver and heads back to Kansas to give the bounty to Logan’s wife; Munny heads back to Big Whiskey to take revenge on Little Bill.

That night, Munny arrives and sees Logan’s corpse displayed in a coffin outside the saloon with a sign warning this is what happens to assassins in the town of Big Whiskey. Inside, Little Bill has assembled a posse to pursue Munny and the Kid. Munny walks in alone to confront the posse and kills Dubois for putting his friend on displays outside the saloon.

This leads to a shootout, Munny shoots Bill and kills several of his deputies before ordering the bystanders to leave the saloon. Critically wounded, Bill promises to see Munny in hell before Munny executes him. Munny then leaves Big Whiskey, warning the townsfolk that he will return for more vengeance if Logan is not buried properly or if any of the prostitutes are harmed.

During the epilogue, a title card states that Munny and his children left the pig farm with Munny rumoured to have moved to San Francisco and prospering selling dry goods.

What’s to Like
The realistic portrayal of life on the frontier, the exceptional acting performances, the exploration of violence and how those using it loses there souls.

What’s not to Like

This is the greatest western I have ever had the pleasure watching.  The movie has multiple acting legends giving some of their best ever performances, assured that they know what they are doing after long careers and with the support of a fellow actor as Director.  This would be the start of Client Eastwood’s great directing career as he helmed many later films considered masterpieces and it is this movie that gave studios the confidence to give Eastwood control of more movies including those outside genres he specialised in as an actor.

The life on the frontier isn’t glamorised at all.  The three main leads, Little Bill, Munny and Logan at various times discuss how hard it is, and that taking a life is no easy thing either.  You see the tough life everyone lives, the biographer attempts at times to make it seem heroic but the reality is far from this.  Munny is a very flawed man, a murder, a drunk but also someone who is trying to come to terms with his path and do right by his dead wife and his young children, he is ashamed of his earlier life. 

No one is all good or all bad, making this the most realistic western I’ve seen so far. A masterpiece of movie making.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – winner
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Gene Hackman) – winner
  • Best Director (Clint Eastwood) – winner
  • Best Film Editing (Joel Cox) – winner
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Clint Eastwood) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (David Webb Peoples) – nominee
  • Best Cinematography (Jack N. Green) – nominee
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – nominee
  • Best Sound – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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