Unforgiven is a 1992 American revisionist Western film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood and written by David Webb Peoples. The film portrays William Munny, an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job, years after he had turned to farming. The film stars Eastwood in the lead role, with Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris.
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Written by||David Webb Peoples|
|Produced by||Clint Eastwood|
|Cinematography||Jack N. Green|
|Edited by||Joel Cox|
|Music by||Lennie Niehaus|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$159.2 million|
Unforgiven grossed over $159 million on a budget of $14.4 million and received widespread critical acclaim, with praise for the acting (particularly from Eastwood and Hackman), directing, editing, themes and cinematography. The film won four Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Director for Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Film Editing for editor Joel Cox. Eastwood was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, but he lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. The film was the third Western to win Best Picture, following Cimarron (1931) and Dances with Wolves (1990). Eastwood dedicated the film to directors and mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.
In 2004, Unforgiven was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was remade into the 2013 film also titled Unforgiven, starring Ken Watanabe and changing the setting to the early Meiji era.
Eastwood had initially stated that the film would be his last Western for fear of repeating himself or imitating someone else's work. However, he will return to the genre with the upcoming 2021 Neo-Western film Cry Macho, 29 years after Unforgiven.
In 1880, in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, two cowboys—Quick Mike and Davey Bunting—slash prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald's face with a knife, permanently disfiguring her, after she laughs at Quick Mike's small penis. As punishment, local sheriff "Little Bill" Daggett orders the cowboys to turn over several of their horses to her employer, Skinny DuBois, for his loss of revenue. Outraged, the prostitutes offer a $1,000 reward for the cowboys' deaths.
In Hodgeman County, Kansas, a boastful young man calling himself the "Schofield Kid" visits William Munny's hog farm, seeking to recruit him to help claim the reward. Formerly a notorious outlaw and murderer, Munny is now a repentant widower raising two children. After initially refusing to help, Munny realizes that his farm is failing and jeopardizing his children's future. Munny recruits his friend Ned Logan, another retired outlaw, and they catch up with the Kid.
Back in Wyoming, British-born gunfighter "English" Bob, an old acquaintance and rival of Little Bill, seeks the reward. He arrives in Big Whiskey with his biographer W. W. Beauchamp, who naively believes Bob's exaggerated tales. Enforcing the town's anti-gun law, Little Bill and his deputies disarm Bob, and Bill beats him savagely to discourage other would-be gunmen from attempting to claim the bounty. Bill ejects Bob from town the next morning, but Beauchamp stays to write about Bill, who debunks many of the romantic notions Beauchamp has about the Wild West. Little Bill explains to Beauchamp that the best attribute for a gunslinger is to be cool-headed under fire, rather than to have the quickest draw.
Munny, Logan, and the Kid arrive in town during a rainstorm and head into Dubois's saloon. While Logan and the Kid meet with the prostitutes upstairs, a feverish Munny is sitting alone when Little Bill and his deputies confront him. Not realizing Munny's identity, Bill beats him up and kicks him out of the saloon for carrying a pistol. Logan and the Kid escape through a back window, and the three regroup at a barn outside town, where they nurse Munny back to health.
A few days later, the trio ambush and kill Bunting in front of his friends. After missing Bunting and hitting his horse instead, Logan realizes that he does not want to kill again and resolves to return home; Munny then shoots and kills the young cowboy himself with Ned's rifle. Munny feels they must finish the job and takes the Kid with him to the cowboys' ranch, where the Kid ambushes Quick Mike in an outhouse and kills him. After they escape, a distraught Kid confesses he had never killed anyone before and renounces life as a gunfighter. When one of the prostitutes arrives to give them the reward, they learn that Logan was captured and tortured to death by Bill and his men. The Kid gives Will his revolver and returns to Kansas with the reward; Munny heads back to Big Whiskey to take revenge on Little Bill.
That night, Munny arrives and sees Logan's corpse displayed in a coffin outside the saloon as a warning to any other "assassins". Inside, Little Bill has assembled a posse to pursue Munny and the Kid. Munny walks in alone brandishing a shotgun to confront the posse and uses his first shot to kill Dubois. Munny holds Bill at gunpoint. Little Bill instructs his men to kill Munny after he takes the second and final shot remaining in his shotgun. Munny's shotgun misfires, allowing the deputies to draw and start shooting. Despite this, Munny draws his pistol, shoots Bill, and calmly kills several deputies, whose panicked shots miss him. Munny orders the bystanders to leave the saloon. Mortally wounded, Bill promises to see Munny in hell, and Munny kills him. Munny leaves Big Whiskey, warning the townsfolk that he will return for more vengeance if Logan is not buried properly or if any of the prostitutes are harmed.
During the epilogue, a title card states that Munny and his children abandoned their farm and are rumored to have moved to San Francisco, prospering in dry goods.
- Clint Eastwood as Will Munny
- Gene Hackman as Sheriff Little Bill Daggett
- Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan
- Richard Harris as English Bob
- Jaimz Woolvett as The Schofield Kid
- Saul Rubinek as W.W. Beauchamp
- Frances Fisher as Strawberry Alice
- Anna Thomson as Delilah Fitzgerald
- David Mucci as Quick Mike
- Rob Campbell as Davey Bunting
- Anthony James as Skinny Dubois
- Tara Dawn Frederick as Little Sue
- Beverley Elliott as Silky
- Liisa Repo-Martell as Faith
- Josie Smith as Crow Creek Kate
- Tantoo Cardinal (Cherrilene) as Sally Two Trees
- Shane Meier as William Munny Jr.
- Aline Levasseur as Penny Munny
- Ron White as Deputy Clyde Ledbetter
- Jeremy Ratchford as Deputy Andy Russell
- John Pyper-Ferguson as Deputy Charley Hecker
- Jefferson Mappin as Deputy Fatty Rossiter
- Mina E. Mina as Muddy Chandler
- Henry Kope as German Joe Schultz
- Larry Joshua as Bucky
- Ben Cardinal as Johnny Foley
- Frank C. Turner as Fuzzy
- Lochlyn Munro as Texas Slim
- Philip Hayes as Lippy MacGregor
The film was written by David Webb Peoples, who had written the Oscar nominated film The Day After Trinity and co-written Blade Runner with Hampton Fancher. The concept for the film dated to 1976, when it was developed under the titles The Cut-Whore Killings and The William Munny Killings. By Eastwood's own recollection he was given the script in the "early 80s" although he did not immediately pursue it, because, according to him, "I thought I should do some other things first".
Much of the cinematography for the film was shot in Alberta in August 1991 by director of photography Jack Green. Filming took place between August 26, 1991 and November 12, 1991. Production designer Henry Bumstead, who had worked with Eastwood on High Plains Drifter, was hired to create the "drained, wintry look" of the western.
Like other Revisionist Westerns, Unforgiven is primarily concerned with deconstructing the morally black-and-white vision of the American West that was established by traditional works in the genre, as David Webb Peoples’ script is saturated with unnerving reminders of Munny's own horrific past as a murderer and gunfighter haunted by the lives he's taken, while the film as a whole "reflects a reverse image of classical Western tropes": the protagonists, rather than avenging a God-fearing innocent, are hired to collect a bounty for a group of prostitutes. Men who claim to be fearless killers are either exposed as cowards and weaklings or self-promoting liars, while others find that they no longer have it in them to take another life. A writer with no conception of the harshness and cruelty of frontier life publishes stories that glorify common criminals as infallible men of honor. The law is represented by a pitiless and cynical former gunslinger whose idea of justice is often swift and without mercy, and while the main protagonist initially tries to resist his violent impulses, the murder of his friend drives him to become the same cold-blooded killer he once was, suggesting that a Western hero is not necessarily "the good guy", but rather "just the one who survived".
Unforgiven does not offer a singular set of moral guidelines that the protagonists follow and the antagonists disobey. Instead, each character acts on what they think is right for them, and they often act in both morally right and wrong ways. Munny gets justice for Delilah and avenges Ned, but despite his noble actions, Munny's character is haunted by his violent past, where he was notorious for killing any man, woman or child. Allen Redmon's "Mechanisms of Violence in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and Mystic River" describes Munny's role as an antihero by stating he is "a virtuous or an injured hero [that] overcomes all obstacles to see that evil is eradicated using whatever means necessary". Munny's repeated acts of killing, to accomplish what he sees as just, eventually cause him to fall into his old ways of being a man corrupted by violence. Other characters in the film such as Ned and the Schofield Kid disagree with Munny's methods of justice after they decide they can no longer live a life where they kill others. Munny is motivated to kill in order to earn the bounty for Quick Mike and Davey Bunting. Though he realizes killing is difficult, he ultimately decides to return to the life as a gunslinger in order to provide for his children, which he thinks is the morally responsible thing to do for him and his family.
Morality in conflict
One of the major themes of the film Unforgiven is the conflicting morals regarding killing. The three most distinct morals on killing are these: (1) it is ok to kill whenever and whoever, (2) it is okay to kill if the person deserves it, and (3) it is never ok to kill unless it is used as a last resort. The first view is held by English Bob and Little Bill, most notably when Little Bill tries to get English Bob to take his gun so that he can shoot English Bob in “self-defense.” The second is held by William Munny: the main reason he took the job was because he believed the cowboys deserved to be killed for what they had done to Delilah. The third is shared by Ned Logan and the Schofield Kid. Ned decides to leave when realizes he cannot kill Davey or anyone. The Schofield Kid quits his goal of becoming an outlaw when he is struck by how horrible killing is after he shoots Quick Mike. The Schofield Kid “is unable to fathom the full implications of violence, at least until he shoots a man for the first time.” The film’s moral center is found in either the second or third view. The film’s viewpoint may mirror the view of its protagonist, William Munny. Or the film may align with the point of view of the character who represents the future of the west, the Schofield Kid.
The film debuted at the top position in its opening weekend. Its earnings of $15,018,007 ($7,252 average from 2,071 theaters) on its opening weekend was the best ever opening for an Eastwood film at that time. It spent a total of 3 weeks as the No. 1 film in North America. In its 35th weekend (April 2–4, 1993), capitalizing on its Oscar wins, the film returned to the Top 10 (spending another 3 weeks total), ranking at No. 8 with a gross of $2,538,358 ($2,969 average from 855 theaters), an improvement of 197 percent over the weekend before where it made $855,188 ($1,767 average from 484 theaters). The film closed on July 15, 1993, having spent nearly a full year in theaters (343 days / 49 weeks), having earned $101,157,447 in North America, and another $58,000,000 internationally for a total of $159,157,447 worldwide.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports a 96% approval rating based on 106 reviews and an average rating of 8.80/10. The website's critical consensus states, "As both director and star, Clint Eastwood strips away decades of Hollywood varnish applied to the Wild West, and emerges with a series of harshly eloquent statements about the nature of violence." Metacritic gave the film a score of 85 out of 100 based on 33 critical reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Jack Methews of the Los Angeles Times described Unforgiven as "The finest classical western to come along since perhaps John Ford's 1956 The Searchers." Richard Corliss in Time wrote that the film was "Eastwood's meditation on age, repute, courage, heroism—on all those burdens he has been carrying with such grace for decades." Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert criticized the work, though the latter gave it a positive vote, for being too long and having too many superfluous characters (such as Harris' English Bob, who enters and leaves without meeting the protagonists). Despite his initial reservations, Ebert eventually included the film in his "The Great Movies" list.
|Academy Awards||Best Picture||Clint Eastwood||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||Gene Hackman||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||David Webb Peoples||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction||Henry Bumstead and Janice Blackie-Goodine||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Jack N. Green||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||Joel Cox||Won|
|Best Sound||Les Fresholtz, Vern Poore, Dick Alexander and Rob Young||Nominated|
|BAFTA Awards||Best Supporting Actor||Gene Hackman||Won|
|Best Film||Clint Eastwood||Nominated|
|Best Original Screenplay||David Webb Peoples||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Les Fresholtz, Vern Poore, Dick Alexander and Rob Young||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Director||Clint Eastwood||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||Gene Hackman||Won|
|Best Motion Picture – Drama||Clint Eastwood||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||David Webb Peoples||Nominated|
The music for the Unforgiven film trailer, which appeared in theatres and on some of the DVDs, was composed by Randy J. Shams and Tim Stithem in 1992. The main theme song, "Claudia's Theme," was composed by Clint Eastwood.
- American Film Institute recognition
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #98
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #68
Unforgiven was released as premium home video, on DVD and VHS, on September 24, 2002. It was released on Blu-ray Book (a Blu-ray Disc with book packaging) on February 21, 2012. Special features include an audio commentary by Clint Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel; four documentaries including "All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger", "Eastwood & Co.: Making Unforgiven", "Eastwood...A Star", and "Eastwood on Eastwood", and more. Unforgiven was released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray on May 16, 2017.
A Japanese adaptation of Unforgiven, directed by Lee Sang-il and starring Ken Watanabe, was released in 2013. The plot of the 2013 version is very similar to the original, but it takes place in Japan during the Meiji period, with the main character being a samurai instead of a bandit.
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- Unforgiven at the Arts & Faith Top100 Spiritually Significant Films list
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- Psychoanalytic review of Unforgiven
- Essay on the film