#94: Unforgiven [1992]

I wasn’t feeling overly enthusiastic as my challenge-assistant Tom and I sat down to watch Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Firstly, we were watching it on a laptop (legally streamed from LOVEFiLM), which doesn’t offer the best viewing experience. Secondly, Tom had begged that we skip to #93, assuring me that this was a ‘boring’ movie. Not the best of introductions then.
While this is a Western film which the iconic Clint Eastwood produced, directed and claimed the starring role in, it’s not particularly typical of the genre as a whole. When we think of a good old American Western, we tend to think of crowded, rowdy saloons, epic horse races and bloodbath shoot-outs. The thing is, Unforgiven isn’t concerned about meeting our expectations; it attempts to show the West as it was, instead of filming another glamorised version thereof. Rather than stereotypical figures such as the roguish but heroic good guy, we get a sadistic sheriff and a reluctant (retired) killer who just wants to provide for his children. It seems that Eastwood made his last Western question its own heritage.
I say ‘question’, because Unforgiven doesn’t exactly undermine the genre. We still have everything a classic Western needs: prostitutes, saloons, horses, guns, reward money and, of course, Clint Eastwood. Yet, the film strips these elements of their Hollywood glamorisation and reconsiders them in a more realistic light. The prostitutes are bullied and beaten. The saloon cowers before the oppressive sheriff. Horses disregard and resist their masters. Guns misfire and simply miss their targets as we learn that a cool head is better than a quick draw. Even receiving the reward money is a bitter triumph as William Munny (Eastwood) realises the true cost of his victory. One key vehicle for the de-glamorisation (or at least partial) of the genre’s stereotypes is the character of the young Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett). His obsession with becoming a famous ‘killer’ and his pride in having killed five men already shows not only the warped values of the time, but also those which have since become instituted in the Western film itself. Later, the Kid’s decision that murdering isn’t for him constitutes the symbolic breakdown of this value system. In arguing this, I’m aware that I’m reading at a surface level without a deep knowledge of the genre itself. Express your own views in the comment box below.
This can be a hard movie to watch at times. It certainly deserved its Academy Awards as Unforgiven is cinematically intelligent, but the plot does tend to drag at times. Although, if I’m applauding the film for its attempt at realism then I can hardly demand more action. Still, there were times when I agreed with Tom’s introductory briefing. This is a well-made and incredibly quotable movie, with many layers of meaning to investigate further, yet I still feel there is something wanting in the viewing experience as a whole. Perhaps I simply need to delve further into the world of the Western.

Tom's Summary: 'Not enough gun-slinging'.