Directed by: Clint Eastwood | 131 minutes | drama, western | Actors: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvett, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Anna Levine, David Mucci, Rob Campbell, Anthony James, Tara Frederick, Beverley Elliott, Liisa Repo-Martell, Josie Smith
In 1992, the Western genre was on the verge of death. ‘Dances with Wolves’ (1990) had caused a small revival, but everything indicated that the end of the Wild West was near. As a film lover you could now only hope that it would be a farewell in style, not a slow death but an explosive finale.
And it became explosive. With a director who had made the genre big as an actor, a great cast, an unambiguous message and a parade of unorthodox characters, the film became a huge success and won four Oscars in 1993. That was at least eight too few. Because ‘Unforgiven’ is without a doubt one of the best films of the nineties, if not the best.
Apart from all its cinematic qualities, ‘Unforgiven’ is particularly notable for its urgent theme and the radical abandonment of just about all genre conventions. The theme is simple: with small and large frictions, a spiral of violence is inevitable without forgiveness. A simple theme but also urgent, especially in a year when violence in the Balkans escalated, and at the end of a century when one massacre followed another. What begins in the film with a nasty incident, a whore is cut in the face, culminates through a sequence of revenge actions in a particularly gloomy, apocalyptic finale. Without winners and with many, many losers.
The film also shows how much the traditional Western is linked to myths. Eastwood leaves little of it intact. The sheriff (the unsurpassed Gene Hackman) is mainly concerned with fixing up his house, the hit men are decrepit alcoholics, the whores are not dressed-up dance mariekes but women of flesh and blood, and the hitman’s comrade may be an ordinary cowboy. , but a cowboy with a black skin. In addition, killing a fellow human being is stripped of all heroism and the characters are anything but black and white; good and evil are not absolute values and the only utterly evil character in the film is the whiskey bottle (which plays its part with conviction). All this in a beautiful setting in which, although unusual in a Western, it occasionally rains heavily.
Unforgiven was the hoped-for brilliant final blow to the Western. Although there were quite a few convulsions after the success (‘Tombstone’ (1993), ‘The Quick and the Dead’ (1995)), it was over and over for the genre. For Eastwood itself it also seemed like a final blow, after ‘Unforgiven’, besides a few reasonable films, mainly very mediocre productions followed. Until he again proved to be a great director in 2003 with ‘Mystic River’.