Sunday, January 09, 2011


Winning many Academy awards and lots of critical acclaim, Unforgiven is often cited as Clint Eastwood's best Western or perhaps his best film, so I added it to my list. Ultimately, it felt mostly unsatisfying.

Part of that is how long things go before much happens. When it's done and you think back on what transpired, there's just not as much as it seems the movie's weight and length would justify. I suppose that might be a trait of many Westerns, though I certainly never felt that way about, for instance, 3:10 To Yuma (I only saw the more recent version).

The larger part is perhaps the Clint's character's arc. I can't really say anything about this without spoiling stuff, so that'll happen after the spoiler break.

The acting was solid across the board. Saul Rubinek in particular brings a really nice contrast to the other characters. He's playing a character he plays a lot, a somewhat nebbish type, but he does it really well and with subtle undertones. I don't think he gets enough credit as an actor. The production is also flawless. There are some nice little details thrown in about characters that keep them from being one-dimensional, like Little Bill's poor carpentry. All the pieces of the movie seem solid, it just doesn't feel like it all comes together into that much.

Spoilers Ahead

Through the entire movie Clint keeps putting lampshades on the central internal conflict (hard to call it "internal" when the character never misses a chance to talk about it) of the character. He used to be a bad man but he's not anymore, and he needs to resist any temptations to lapse into his old behavior, even if the circumstances are dire.

When the conflict finally comes to a head, it just sort of fizzles. He doesn't struggle with the transition: he simply gives in to all his old demons, all at once. Then there doesn't seem to be any price for this. The movie ends soon after with an epilogue in text which seems to imply that he didn't have any problems with the results of this.

Perhaps we're meant to take it that the real conflict isn't him resisting his old demons, but rather, it was that he was spending the whole movie struggling to make the "right" decision to let them out, to go back to drinking and shooting people. Even then, it's odd that, a few minutes later, he sets those impulses aside again (as far as we know) and that's the last we hear of the whole issue. Besides, other scenes -- the fate of his long-time partner, and the reaction of the young up-and-comer to his first kill -- make clear the movie doesn't intend to be glorifying those actions, quite the contrary. So it's odd that ultimately they seem to have no cost for him. Or if they had a cost, it was easy to miss.

I also wonder what the repurcussions were on Big Whisky and on the whores. It seems that a realistic take on the situation does not likely lead to the girls being safe and free to continue pursuing their trade after the bloodbath; someone's going to fill that power vacuum and the girls are an almost certain scapegoat for all that happened, since they're in no position to defend themselves, and there's no one else left alive to take the blame.

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