“Unforgiven,” 25th Anniversary Presentation, at Film Forum August 4-10

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN (19

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven.”

August 3, 2017.  Director and actor Clint Eastwood’s 1992 quadruple Oscar winning movie (including Best Director and Best Picture), “Unforgiven,” will have a run at Film Forum, in a stunning 4K restoration, from August 4 – 10.  “Unforgiven is a dark, violent western that explodes the mythology and violent glamour of the old west. It is a story which movies in directions that are unpredictable and which defy expectations of the western genre.

“Unforgiven” is a fascinating meditation on the nature of violence, specifically the ideal of a “shoot ‘em up” versus the reality of actually killing someone.  The difference between the “good guys” and “bad guys” in this film all depends on whose side you’re on.  In this regard, “Unforgiven” is reminiscent of the Italian westerns, called “Spaghetti Westerns,” in which protagonists were not necessarily the “good guys,” a genre in which Eastwood made his bones as an actor. This influence is particularly felt in the film’s final credit, “For Sergio and Don” – Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.  Leone directed Eastwood in his Italian westerns – “A Fist Full of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966).  Siegel directed some of Eastwood’s movies state side, including the iconic “Dirty Harry” (1971), in which Eastwood plays a police inspector who lives by his own code.

“Unforgiven” also seems influenced by the darker, Anthony Mann westerns of the 1950s, “Man of the West” (1958) in particular.  In “Man of the West” Gary Cooper plays a reformed killer whose past catches up with him.

The “Unforgiven”screenplay, by David Webb Peoples, presents multiple points of view while sketching in its complex characters’ back stories effortlessly, with efficient and well performed exposition delivered by a stellar cast.  The cast includes Gene Hackman (Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) as Little Bill Daggett, a sheriff who lives in a crooked house and whose zeal for law and order takes him outside the boundaries of both.  

The story I heard about “Unforgiven” is that Eastwood put the screenplay aside until he was old enough to play the lead character, William Munny.  Munny is a character one-hundred and eighty degrees from the “man with no name,” cool, confident, deadly shot character that Eastwood typically  portrayed in westerns prior to “Unforgiven,” and whose image Eastwood works against in this movie.  

Munny, a retired killer for hire, and recent widower with two children, is having a difficult time making it as a hog farmer.  When a well paying opportunity presents itself, Munny, who can barely mount a horse or even shoot straight anymore, decides to return to his former profession one last time.  He teams up with former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), now retired and also a farmer. The impetus for this mission comes from the, self-named, Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) a visually impaired youngster who is enamored with the idea of killing someone, probably because he has read too many sensationalist gunslinger stories by writer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubineck).  Beauchamp is the sycophantic biographer of English Bob (Richard Harris), a stylish, but cowardly, killer of Chinese immigrants who has been elevated to legendary status by writers like Beauchamp.  

I originally saw “Unforgiven” during its first run engagement, at a theatre whose projectionist couldn’t keep the film in focus. Despite this, I thought it was an amazing movie.  Now, twenty-five years later, “Unforgiven” looks better than ever, due in no small part to the great work of its director of photography Jack N. Green.  Joel Cox, the film’s editor, won an Oscar for “Unforgiven.”  

The dark themes of “Unforgiven” will not be for everyone, but the film is just as effective and relevant today as it ever was, as it brings up timeless, complex issues about justice and violence…plus Film Forum knows how to keep its movies in focus!

Film Forum is located at 209 W. Houston Street (west of 6th Avenue).  For more information visit http://www.filmforum.com. 

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on August 3, 2017, in Film Forum, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. “Unforgiven” is one of the best westerns I ever saw. I, too, saw it in its first run, and have never forgotten either the power of the film or the superb performances of all the actors. It was great from first to last. Thank you, Seth, for an excellent review; you make me want to go out and see it again, particularly in such a marvelous format!

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