1992, R, 127 min. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvett, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher.

REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Aug. 14, 1992

Eleven years earlier, William Munny (Eastwood) gave up the outlaw life to marry and settle down, eventually having two children. Three years ago, his wife died, and he's been struggling to make it ever since. A young punk, the Schofield Kid (Woolvett), shows up, tells him that a group of whores have offered a thousand dollar reward to kill a cowboy, who cut one of them up, and the cowboy's partner. During his outlaw days, Munny recalls, he was drunk most of the time; he's put that past behind him. But it's a thousand dollars they're offering, the farm is blowing away, the animals are sick. Though at first he says no, he eventually rides after the Kid, picking up his old partner, Ned Logan (Freeman). In the town, another bounty hunter, English Bob (Harris), is brutally beaten by Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Hackman), as a warning to assassins to stay away from the bounty. That night, in the middle of a storm, the three ride in to find the whores and set about collecting the bounty. As a movie, 130 minutes of entertainment, I really can't offer a review of Eastwood's Unforgiven. I sat enthralled, by the pace, the story, the extraordinary performances and the brilliant cinematography but thought it maybe a little slow, and rarely has a grand epic had so simple a story. But in the genre, as both a movie and a conscious addition to the ongoing celluloid Western mythology, the film is a masterpiece, a stunning and awe-inspiring statement. In 1956, in that greatest of revisionist Westerns The Searchers, John Ford offering the unsettling view that maybe the western heroes who helped transform the wilderness into civilization were basically psychopaths. But in the film, John Wayne was still a hero. Here Eastwood tells a western story deprived of any heroic resonance. The central story revolves around a washed-up murderer and company, the stupid job of murdering the cowboys, one of whom is basically innocent, and a tough sheriff. This, the film argues, is the way the West was, simple thuggish acts transformed through the eyes of creative observers. Eastwood's explicit here, having a dime store novelist (Rubinek) who first attaches himself to English Bob, then Daggett and then finally looks with longing at Munny, following whichever man seems the most powerful, believing any story. The fascination here is with how events like this became Western myths. One of the defining moments in The Searchers is a shot of Wayne's mad face. In Unforgiven we see Eastwood, beat up and bruised, sitting by a fire. He looks both evil and sad. Oddly, though his future is clearly used up, history, especially popular culture, will redeem him as a hero. Although a powerful participant in the process of mythification as an actor, as a director Eastwood just can't figure out why.

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Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvett, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher

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