Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by David Webb Peoples
Produced by Clint Eastwood
The Outlaw Josey Wales is the best material Clint Eastwood ever lucked into, but this Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Director of 1992 is from sunrise to sunset the best screenplay Eastwood has yet filmed. Known as The Cut-Whore Killings when David Webb Peoples wrote it in 1976, Malpaso took a look at the script five years later. The writing was so digressive and subject matter so reprehensible that story editor Sonia Chernus referred to it as “trash”, but when Eastwood took a look much later as a sample of Peoples’ writing, he optioned the script and held onto it until the time was right to make the film. As savage and foreboding as any indie made that decade by directors half his age, this western is a potent exploration of the roots of violence; elegantly written, boldly photographed and magnificently performed.
Rationing the number of fatalities, Unforgiven is explicit in wanting to make the viewer actually feel something for every felled body. Despite the relative lack of gunplay, the deeper we get into the story, the more it crackles with suspense. The characters are compelling — with Eastwood essentially playing a villain revisited 20 years down the road — and the dialogue has an otherworldly splendor, as if Peoples traveled back in time to take notes. Richard Harris and Gene Hackman deliver monologues as rapturous as any torn from a Quentin Tarantino script and like a Tarantino film, when the talking stops and the bullets fly, we aren’t disappointed. Jack N. Green washes the film in thunderstorm gray while the town of Big Whiskey — built in Alberta, Canada by Henry Bumstead — is one of the most visually compelling frontier villages ever put on film.
As a rainstorm pelts the town of “Big Whiskey”, Wyoming in 1880, a cowpoke slashes the face of Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Thomson) for a slight against his manhood. Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) considers bullwhipping the assailant and his partner, but when the cut whore’s employer (Anthony James) protests the assault as destruction of property, Little Bill fines the cowpokes in ponies instead. Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) pools together the savings of the working girls to buy their own retribution. Tending to his pigs, retired mercenary William Munny (Clint Eastwood) receives a visit from the self-proclaimed Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), nephew of a desperado he once rode with. Invited by the kid to partner with him in the murder for hire, Munny maintains that his dearly departed wife cured him of that “drink and wickedness.”
Changing his mind, Munny picks up his pistols and climbs back on a horse for the first time in 11 years. He stops off at the farm of his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and recruits him to participate in the killings. Gunslinger-for-hire English Bob (Richard Harris) and his “biographer” W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) arrive in Big Whiskey ahead of them to collect the reward money, only to have Little Bill and his deputies violently yank away the welcome mat. Amused by Mr. Beauchamp’s frontier fiction posing as fact, the sadistic sheriff sets him straight on how law & order out west really works. Arriving in town, Munny has a hurt put on him by Little Bill, but is able to regroup with Ned and the kid to finish the job. One of them falls prey to Little Bill’s posse, prompting Munny to pay a visit to Big Whiskey for his own retribution.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 55 users: 96% for Unforgiven
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 82 for Unforgiven
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