Clint Eastwood’s final western was Unforgiven and still stands atop a resume of great films from the famous actor/director, but also in the genre, earning a Best Picture Oscar and an Oscar for Eastwood as director.
Eastwood stars as William Munny, a reformed outlaw, raising hogs and his two children alone after the loss of his wife to smallpox. Munny agrees to join a young bandit to collect a bounty a pair of cowboys who disfigured a prostitute.
Munny recruits Ned (Morgan Freeman), a close friend who knows about Will’s past, and the three men set off to hunt down the criminals for the money.
Gene Hackman’s Little Bill, and his brand of violent justice in a remote western town, takes down any and all assassins, first English Bob (Richard Harris) and ultimately beats down Will as they arrive in town.
The climax comes as Little Bill has Ned executed and put on display in a coffin as a warning to other bounty hunters. Will becomes unhinged, returns to drinking and unleashes his inner demon to gun down Little Bill and all of those inside the Big Whiskey saloon.
Check out the trailer below.
While Dances with Wolves also earned an Oscar, the year prior, Unforgiven is still a more engaging, mysterious western, ripe with action and amazing performances. Nearly thirty years later, the Kevin Costner film has grown much more unwatchable, slow and uninteresting.
Eastwood’s Unforgiven still holds up.
The final thirty minutes showcases the gruff and intimidating Eastwood, set on avenging his friend with a cold, callous approach to gunning down anyone who is in his way.
As mentioned, this was Eastwood final western, but more interesting is the trivial fact that the boots he wears in the film were also the boots he wore on Rawhide, the start of his famous career.
While The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is widely considered the best western of all-time, the “Spaghetti Western” seems like a different kind of film, a different genre.
Unforgiven feels like a timeless classic, capturing the tenor of the time and the stereotype of the vicious western outlaw and lawmen.
Hackman earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Joel Cox for Best Film Editing. There was five other nominations, including Eastwood’s performance in the Best Actor category.
List makers and critics can argue about the Best Westerns of All-Time, but make sure Unforgiven is at least in the conversation.