#100) Unforgiven (1992)

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#100) Unforgiven (1992)

OR “Old West Action”

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Written by David Webb Peoples

Class of 2004

The Plot: Two cowboys cut up a prostitute in the small town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming. When the town’s seemingly reformed Sheriff Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) lets them off easy, the prostitutes place a bounty for any man who will kill the cowboys. Hearing of this, the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) attempts to recruit William Munny (Clint Eastwood), a former gunslinger who is now a widowed farmer and father. Munny finally agrees to do “one last job” and enlists the help of his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). Oh, and Richard Harris shows up as someone named English Bob.

Why It Matters: The NFR’s listing for “Unforgiven” is two sentences; the first is the plot of the film, the second a rundown of the supporting cast. No essay, no additional information, no commentary on why the film has been included in the NFR.

But Does It Really?: Well if the NFR can’t come up with anything to say, what can I possibly add? It’s a little too early to call this film a classic, but “Unforgiven” is a well crafted Western and worth at least one viewing. The film’s meditative view on gun violence and its consequences will help it age better than others of the genre. Eastwood directs with a confident hand, and Clint the director lets Clint the actor show colors otherwise unseen in his other performances. Clint went on the record saying this was going to be his last western, and a quarter of a century later he is still going and true to his word.

Shout Outs: Several westerns are referenced throughout, notably Eastwood’s own “The Outlaw Josey Wales”. Screenwriter David Webb Peoples cited “Taxi Driver” as a major influence on his screenplay.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the crew, as well as actors Frances Fisher** and, most surprisingly, Richard Harris.

Wow, That’s Dated: This film actually avoids any major ‘90s filmmaking tropes. You win this round, Clint.

Take a Shot: No one says “unforgiven” at any point in this film.

Seriously, Oscars?: After giving up on winning an Oscar anytime in his career, Clint walked away with both Best Picture and Best Director at the 1992 Oscars. Along for the ride were Gene Hackman for Supporting Actor and Joel Cox for Film Editing. Eastwood directed himself to a Best Actor nomination, but lost to Al Pacino’s overdue turn in “Scent of a Woman”. After waiting 15 years for his screenplay to become a film, David Webb Peoples lost Best Original Screenplay to “The Crying Game”.

Other notes

  • “Prostitute cutting” may be the weirdest MacGuffin in film history.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Quick Mike.
  • Gene Hackman’s good in anything.
  • There is something very upsetting about watching Clint not being able to shoot a gun or ride a horse.
  • This film was made before California State Law required that Morgan Freeman narrate all films that he appears in.
  • I have been to the train station used in the film. It’s in Sonora, California and looks pretty much the same as it does here.
  • At one point William and Ned talk about former gang member Quincy, who left to enter the world of forensic medicine.
  • There are a few shots where English Bob looks a bit like The First Doctor. He also looks a bit like The First Dumbledore, but that’s another story.
  • W. W. Beauchamp is played here by Saul Rubinek, who I always remember best as Daphne’s one-time fiancé Donny on “Frasier”.
  • The Schofield Kid beats the Ellen Page record for most questions asked by a film character.
  • In true film tradition, when a gang confronts one person, everyone in the gang attacks one at a time, rather than all at once. How unrealistically polite of everyone.
  • A treat for MST3K fans, the boom operator for this film was Kelly Zombor of “The Final Sacrifice” infamy.
  • “Unforgiven” is dedicated to two of Clint’s previous collaborators and mentors: spaghetti western master Sergio Leone and “Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel.

Legacy

  • While not the first Clint Eastwood directed film by a long-shot, “Unforgiven” was the first Clint film to receive major Oscar attention, and the one that made all his future films instant Oscar bait. Clint would repeat his “Unforgiven” Oscar wins 12 years later with “Million Dollar Baby”.
  • “Unforgiven” was remade in 2013 by Lee Sang-il. In a move I’m calling the “Reverse ‘Magnificent Seven’” the story was relocated to Japan’s own frontier period around the 1860s and stars Ken Watanabe in the Clint Eastwood role. It looks remarkably faithful.
  • Surprising no one, the anti-violent “Unforgiven” is referenced in the ultra-violent “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”.
  • Bonus Clip: This is as good a place as any to reference #FakeBaby.

Thanks for making it to my 100th film with me! (Despite the fact that you are most likely reading this in the future and out of order) On to the next 100!

**2017 Update: Frances Fisher now has “Titanic” on the list as well.

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