Earlier this week I reviewed the 1953 classic Western Shane, and now it's time to take a look at a more modern taken on the genre, Clint Eastwood's remarkable 1992 film Unforgiven.
(Spoilers to follow)
In the opening titles we learn that William Munny (Clint Eastwood) is a man with a violent past, a thief and a murderer, killer of women and children. Unlike Shane, where we see the main character right from the start of the film, Unforgiven begins in the town of Big Whiskey. A prostitute (Anna Thomson) has been viciously attacked, beaten, with her her face cut to shreds. The men responsible are captured, and the sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) decides their fate: the men are to bring the owner of the saloon (and whore house) several ponies as restitution for the crime. The other prostitutes are outraged by the light sentence, and decide to pool their money together, coming up with $1000 as a bounty to kill the two men responsible for the attack on the prostitute, Delilah.
It's at this point, several minutes into the film, that we finally meet Munny, a pig farmer struggling to keep his farm running and caring for his two young children. Munny is a widower and has been trying to put his brutal past behind him, living a chaste life for over a decade.
Things are about the change, though: the nephew of a friend who idolizes the man Munny used to be has come to visit. The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Wolvett), a young man who fancies himself a hard-core gun slinger, brings news: a $1000 bounty for the killing of two men who were involved in cutting up a prostitute.
Munny is reluctant at first, but eventually caves, and decides he'll ride with The Kid and they'll split the bounty. Munny needs the money to provide a better life for his children. But Munny will not go without his former partner in crime, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).
I should point out now that Eastwood and Freeman's performances in the film (well, and Gene Hackman) are just incredible. Eastwood and Freeman have a lot of chemistry together, and they're not afraid to put their aging bodies on display. Munny is out of practice in shooting a pistol (as is Logan), and can't even mount a horse without trouble. We get a sense of a man who desperately wants to put his past behind him, but with every second on the journey to kill the men for the bounty, he's fighting his true nature. Munny is a killer, and there's no way around that fact, no matter how hard he tries to supress those urges. Munny frequently evokes the name of his dead wife, as a way to not take a drink of whiskey or have sex with a woman.