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UNFORGIVEN

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 26, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re a 4K collector, you’ll be interested in this new re-release of Clint Eastwood’s masterful western, released in a 4K Ultra HD multipack (with Blu-ray and Digital HD copies) for the film’s 25th anniversary. Here’s my Aug. 7, 1992, Deseret News review of the film.

After a brief prologue, the opening sequence of "Unforgiven" is dark and horrifying. In the town of Big Whiskey, a cowboy in a brothel, angered by the prostitute he has been with, calls to his partner to hold her. He then proceeds to cut up her face.

That same night, a brief "trial" follows and the sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a rigid former gunfighter, imposes his own kind of justice. But the women in the brothel don't think it's enough — so they post a $1,000 reward for anyone who will kill the two men who mutilated their friend.

The film then moves to a Kansas hog farm where William Munny (Clint Eastwood) is having trouble making ends meet. A young punk who calls himself the "Schofield Kid" (Jaimz Woolvett) shows up and asks Munny to join him in going after that reward. But Munny, a widower with two children, declines, insisting that it's over, this life he once led as a drunken, psychotic gunman with a reputation for being the meanest in the land.

But, with the woman who married and tamed him having passed on and Munny sorely in need of cash to make a life for his two youngsters, he soon changes his mind. Enlisting the aid of his former partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), who is equally reluctant to go back to his old ways, Munny joins the "Kid" as they head toward Big Whiskey.

Meanwhile, Little Bill is shown to be a mean-tempered sadist who rules Big Whiskey with fear. When English Bob (Richard Harris), a bounty hunter arrives, accompanied by his biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), we see Little Bill go berserk. He also takes great delight in deflating English Bob's self-important yarns about his own exploits, which have taken on mythic proportions as written by Beauchamp.

     

      Morgan Freeman, left, Clint Eastwood, 'Unforgiven'

Eventually, when these parallel stories merge, it is with violence, of course. But this violence suggests that the glamour of Old West gunplay is greatly exaggerated.

Clint Eastwood is probably the only filmmaker today who could mount and successfully direct a Western of the magnitude of "Unforgiven." Shot entirely on location with gorgeous vistas and a real sense of the wide open spaces of the untamed American West, this film has a look, a cinematic grandeur that is more often read about in film books than seen on the screen anymore.

Yet, it is also revisionist in the way it punctures the romantic notions that surround our movie-made view of the Old West. Guilt-ridden confessional monologues are spoken by reformed bad men, and scenes that are set up as traditional Western moments instead turn into something else (Little Bill confronting English Bob, a box canyon standoff), something with a deeper, darker subtext. It is also suggested that killing someone can be almost as painful for the killer as it is for the victim.

This is a risky proposition in a time when movies treat graphic violence as either a prelude to a verbal zinger or as a punchline. To make a Western at all is risky, of course, but to make one that qualifies as an artistic work with a serious message would almost seem like cinematic suicide.

Yet, if there is any justice, "Unforgiven" will not only gain the audience it deserves, it will also remain in voters' memories come Oscar-nomination time. Hackman, who delivers a very complex and chilling performance, deserves a best supporting actor nomination. But Eastwood should absolutely be remembered when ballots are cast for best director. Aside from being one of the highlights of Eastwood's long career, this film unquestionably offers one of his top directing efforts, right up there with "Bird."

     

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Performances by Freeman, Harris, Rubinek and young Woolvett are terrific, as are those by Anna Thomson as the prostitute who is the victim of violence and Frances Fisher as the woman who runs the brothel.

Though much of the film is brooding, "Unforgiven" is not without humor and there are many clever touches in the superb script by David Webb Peoples ("Blade Runner"). Kudos as well to cinematographer Jack Green, production designer Henry Bumstead and the haunting score by Lennie Niehaus.

"Unforgiven" is rated R for violence and profanity. There is also some vulgarity and, in the opening moments, a sex scene.