Unforgiven (1992) for me, as a UK script consultant and script writer for hire is the ultimate Clint Eastwood film. It really hasn’t aged much at all, and alongside Kevin Costner’s Open Range it’s the best Western of that last 20 years.
The script by David Webb Peoples was apparently written decades before the film was actually made – Eastwood bought the script and effectively sat on it. Until he felt he was old enough to play the character of William Munny.
It’s really a look at violence. Of course, during the 80s and to some extent into the 90s too there was a constant media discussion about violence in films. And if and whether violence on screen affected society, and influenced real murders etc. Kubrick was impacted by this when A Clockwork Orange was implicated (wrongly I believe) in a murder. Kubrick pulled the film from the UK. And it wasn’t shown again for many years.
Of course there was the whole ‘Video Nasty’episode in the UK. With the tabloid press stirring up stories of VHS and Betamax depravity – kids where watching horror films! They would have been much better off watching ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ or ‘Rolf Harris shows’, so it seemed (but, as we know now. That is where the real horror was actually taking place…)
Clint plays Munny, who we meet as a broken down farmer, old arthritic, struggling with a dead wife and a young family, he doesn’t look dangerous and it seems he’s not much of a shot either.
Desperate for some extra cash, he throws in with a young ‘killer’ who has sought Munny out because of his reputation (from many years past) as a cold blooded killer. The two of them, alongside Munny’s old partner head off to kill some cow pokes who cut up a whore – the whores have money to pay for justice.
Gradually it becomes clear that Eastwood’s Munny is the most effective, professional killer of the three. But, when Munny’s pal is killed by the local Sheriff and placed on display for the town to see, only then (when Munny takes a drink of whiskey) do we see the real Munny emerge – an angel of death, a killer so vicious he takes out nearly an entire saloon full of armed men single handed.
The way that this is dealt with by Eastwood the director is rousing, great cinema. But it’s also a comment on violence, how it’s shown and how it is in reality. Munny (although we hope the best for him) is a broken man, his reputation gained mainly while in a drunken rage (he has little memory it seems of some of his viciousness) He regrets much, he feels shame, and most of all, he misses the woman who cured him of this wickedness.
Indeed, the younger killer – who idolises these violent men, learns what it really is to take a life, and when the true horror is felt, he reforms immediately and gives up his guns. This happens as Eastwood’s Munny accepts his fate and takes a drink, as he arms himself for the one thing he’s really good at. Killing.
It’s not done with much enthusiasm, instead, a resignation, an acceptance of fate, like the men who stare down the barrel of Munny’s gun. They don’t have much choice, and in the end neither does Munny.
The cast are to die for, the photography is great and the music is lovely. It’s Eastwood’s last great film. Go see it now. The trailer is below.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour
His directorial debut Markham will be released in 2019.