A former gunslinger (Eastwood) comes out of retirement to take one last job, with the help of an aging rancher (Freeman) and a young gunman (Woolvett), to face a corrupt sheriff (Hackman).
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One of the darkest westerns, Unforgiven is less about sensationalized gun battles and more about a widowers struggle to suppress his murderous ways. William Munny (Eastwood) is a much darker, and certainly older, version of The Man with No Name. If one ever wondered what happened to the character years after Sergio Leoneís The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, this is might be the answer.
The Man with No Name was a cross between hero and anti-hero. William Munny started off in life as a villain turned anti-hero. At the beginning of the film, Munny is living a quiet and peaceful life devoid of any alcohol, gun fights, and thievery. His reputation catches up to him when a young gunslinger looking for the legendary killer arrives at his home. He tells Munny he needs a partner for a job and hopes for the veteran gunman to join. After initially refusing, Munny agrees, and brings along an old trusted ally (Freeman).
During the course of the film, Munnyís past gradually becomes exposed as his sins continue to haunt him. He has murdered men, women, and children, shot unarmed men in the back, and robbed; this is not the typical hero seen in classic westerns.
Of course all western films deal with outlaws that have mysterious pasts rooted in violence, but the director never gives specific horrid details about their immoral endeavors. The audience of the 40s-60s knew the villain was the man in black, but in todayís films distinguishing between the hero and villain is less obvious. In Unforgiven, the hero and the antagonist are identical, with questionable pasts and an uncertain future.
By the end of the picture, you have an understanding of the main characters and their motivations, reasons behind why they chose that way of life. Little Bill (Hanckman) believes what he is doing is right, using violence to combat violence. The difference between him and Munny is the badge. Bill and Munny are characters on the same spectrum just at two different ends.
The film is a dedication to Sergio Leone, a director known for his Spaghetti westerns which changed the way the Old West is seen in films today. However Eastwood, while clearly inspired by his former colleague and friend, reveals his own interpretation of the Old West. There is nothing romantic about being a cowboy. Eastwood successfully removes the mythic image of the American cowboy in place of a more real world person of that time. Munny is the untraditional hero who must resort to his old violent self to win in the end. Why? Well, thatís the way of the Old West, a reality only hinted at in older western films.
The end of the film features one of the greatest, raw, and most entertaining gun battles in any western film. Munny confronts Little Bill and his men in a saloon, a classic setting. Not since Pale Rider (1985) has Eastwood fired off a pistol. To see the renowned actor put back on his hat, boots, and saddle up is one of the reasons, if not, the reason to see this film. The original outlaw, Eastwood, returns to a genre that introduced him to audiences around the world and his passion comes through in this Oscar winning picture. A must see for all western fans, but more importantly, for Eastwood fans as well.