Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Unforgiven (1992)

When you first see Will Munny, he isn't the kind of man you expect, both from Eastwood's past famous roles and your typical western. The opening and closing bookends emphasize this further by highlighting Munny's reputation ("a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition") versus the obviously different person his wife knew. Indeed the first time we meet him he's falling down in some mud trying desperately to round up some hogs. Quite the opposite of a badass, and the arrogant Schofield Kid is quick to point this out.

It's brilliant the way these characters are developed. Munny instantly becomes sympathetic because you see him as a father working hard to provide for his kids but failing miserably. It becomes a running gag how Munny can't even get on his horse without a ton of trouble. Very few movies can take a character you laugh at and turn him into such a fierce fearless man you wouldn't dare chuckle around him, but Unforgiven does that flawlessly. Right from the start, it's building him up as a three-dimensional protagonist with different sides to him.

What's equally as incredible is developing Little Bill as a real person too. At first, you might think Little Bill's sense of justice is warped since the assault on the prostitute doesn't get a punishment befitting the crime, but even if you think Little Bill is too lax here, the reasoning behind his decision is a noble one: he's trying to avoid further bloodshed. The first confrontation between Little Bill and English Bob again plays with the dichotomy of appearance versus reality by making Little Bill seem quite ruthless in his savage attack on an unarmed man. You learn later though how English Bob is a liar, boasting of heroic acts when he did nothing of the sort, and again, Little Bill is trying to prevent lawlessness and murder in his town. But you see another side to Little Bill when you find out how truly awful he is at building a house. This humanizes him. The way this script handles its characters is just extraordinary.

One of my favorite moments is after the Schofield Kid takes his first life and realizes he isn't like Will. It's such a clear contrast that really distinguishes both characters. You realize the Schofield Kid was all talk. Having actually murdered someone, he's disgusted and haunted by it. It shows you how ugly violence really is.

I don't know what it is about Morgan Freeman, but he automatically comes across as sympathetic just because of the way he looks. He never seems like a bad man, and of course, he isn't in this movie even if he did some terrible things in his past like Will. But Ned is really so crucial to the narrative of this film. He has a chance to kill one of the cowboys, but he can't do it. So he's innocent, and thus, it makes perfect sense from a storytelling perspective that he's the one Little Bill tortures and kills. It's a great twist of irony, and it puts you in the protagonist's shoes. You want Little Bill to pay. It doesn't matter who Munny was before. "That's right. I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walks or crawls at one point or another, and I'm here to kill you Little Bill for what you did to Ned." It's such an amazing scene lifted up to such colossal heights by every beat that came before it.

And I love the use of thunder and rain in this film. It really helps establish the atmosphere and the tension especially in the climax. Such a simple thing can go a long way when used right.

Here's something sad and disturbing. Even a masterpiece like this can get shit reviews. Just check out this link on IMDb:

People complain the dialogue is poor, the acting is "horrible," the movie is boring, Eastwood is too old, etc. Someone even has the audacity to call it "one of the worst westerns around." You've got to be fuckin kidding me. How unfortunate is it that no matter how great of a movie you make, some people are always going to shit on it.

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