60/60 Review #5: Unforgiven.

Warning: Mild spoilers ahoy.


I've said it before, but I'm not a huge fan of westerns. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with them, but being a bit of a Texas rebel, I have an aversion to most things "country." I do, however, enjoy the idea of westerns (outlaws, shootouts, etc.). So I do enjoy some. The point I'm trying to make is that this month wasn't the most exciting one for me on this list. This film, though, has won Oscars and is supposedly the western that even non-western fans enjoy. Maybe that was slightly too much hype for me.

When a couple guys cut up a prostitute's face, the town sheriff, Little Bill (Gene Hackman) refuses to do much about it. This causes the other prostitutes to round up a thousand dollars and hire an assassin to knock off the attackers. This attracts the attention of a young man named Schofield (Jaimz Woolvett) to seek out retired outlaw Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood) in order to bring him along and take care of the men. Bill refuses at first, but decides he needs the money. Before heading off, he picks up his old partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), who goes along with him. Unfortunately, as is shown by another outlaw by the name of English Bob (Richard Harris), Little Bill's town is a no-gun zone, and anybody they even suspect as an outlaw or assassin will be beaten into submission.

I'm just gonna come straight out with my negative thoughts and get those out of the way. I'm not sure if it was the acting or the script or a mix of both, but the first 30 minutes of this movie (in my opinion) were so bad. I was watching like "Really? This is an Oscar-winning film?" And something that didn't really change throughout the film was its mostly flat characters. If I had to hear Eastwood mention how he used to be a bad person, how he doesn't drink anymore, and how his dead wife rehabilitated him, I was gonna scream. If I had to hear one more time how Morgan Freeman could shoot an eagle high up in the sky... or really any of the other dozen things that were constantly repeated throughout the film ad nauseum. It just got old pretty fast. It's like "OK, I get it already."

Of course, there are some obvious changes within the characters. For instance, you find out the over-the-top boasting young man who clearly hasn't killed a man in his life--gasp--has never killed a man in his life. You also find out that the sharpshooting partner can't shoot so sharp these days. And, of course, the bad-man-turned-good-who-doesn't-drink ends up drinking and become a good gunslinger again. It also bugged me with the running gag about how Eastwood couldn't get on his horse. I mean, the dude lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere and even admits having to go into town from time to time. How is it possible that he became so rusty in horse riding that it would take him 5 minutes just to climb on to the horse?

All that being said, I did end up really enjoying the movie overall. Once Richard Harris (almost unrecognizable to me without his Dumbledore beard) showed up as English Bob, the movie skyrocketed in quality. It's too bad his character wasn't explored more (or even served much of a purpose in the overall plot), because his was my favorite of the whole film. Gene Hackman's Little Bill was an interesting character, too. His was pretty much the only one whose qualities weren't shoved down your throat. In literary terms, he was given much more of an "indirect characterization" as opposed to everybody else's "direct characterization." I don't want to be told you used to be a cold-hearted bastard. Show me. And with Little Bill, we were given a conflicted character--one that wanted to keep peace in his little town, but at what cost? He has all the qualities of a hero, but he uses them in all the wrong ways, making him sometimes more of a villain than those who cut up the prostitute.

Of all the westerns I've watched--and there aren't many--this one falls somewhere in the middle. It wasn't horribly dull despite its gorgeous cinematography (Assassination of Jesse James...). It had some dull moments near the beginning, but they weren't long and drawn out. It also didn't have the most interesting cinematography, but it was good. On the flip side, its characters weren't totally introspective or all that complex within relatively constant action (3:10 to Yuma). They always spoke what they were thinking and they pretty much shoved it down our throats how we were supposed to perceive them.

So overall, the film was pretty good despite feeling repetitive. I actually fell asleep near the end for roughly 10 minutes--but unlike the other films on this list when that happened, I actually skipped back and finished watching it right then and there. That's how invested I was in it. Sure, it had its problems, and I'm probably going to get a lot of backlash from this review with comments like "Well, you just don't understand and/or appreciate the art of the western!" But whatever. I think "No Country For Old Men" would have been a good title for this movie--and more suiting than it was with the actual film--not to mention this had an infinitely better and more satisfying ending. Yup.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

(P.S. I wish I had a score between this one and the "McLovin." I would have scored this film with that one. But let's just say this is a pretty weak "Whoa." If I gave it a scoring out of 5, I'd say about a 3.7 or 3.8. I know, that's weird... whatever.)


  1. I had the same problems with it. I just didn't get what people LOVED about it. It's not bad - mostly good, but just didn't make sense that there was so much Oscar love for it. I bet Eastwood never wins another in retribution for people rewatching this and saying "why did we give him an Oscar? Gran Torino was better."

  2. Jess: Totally. I still don't understand the Oscar love, and I want to go back and see what it was up against that year. I mean, really? I hated giving it a "Whoa" score, as I feel that's too high. But I also feel a "McLovin" is too low. That's why I wanted somewhere in between.

  3. I agree too! Everyone RAVES about this film, but I just thought it was pretty good. I saw it a few years ago and have been planning to revisist it, but I think you just convinced me my original assessment was the correct one.

    Loving the 60/60 series by the way

  4. One thing to keep in mind before you submit yourself to one very rough month: westerns have a formula.

    Classic westerns (read: not 310 To YUMA) are a long slow incline to one inevitible showdown. After the climax, it's a quick wrap-up and the story's done.

    So those openings where we're sorta beaten over the head with everybody's character traits are pretty common place. (Though I didn't think they harped on any of them any longer than they had to here).

    What many love about this film is that it was the first western to take a grittier stance on killing and dying - as opposed to all the older ones that seemed to glorify it.

    For many, it felt like Clint was trying to attone for his role in glamorizing killing in so many old westerns.


    My vote would still go to UNFORGIVEN.

  5. Yeah, I knew the western formula already (mostly because you discussed it on the Deathly Hallows podcast with me). Doesn't mean I have to like it :P .

    "I don't think they did it any longer than they had to here."

    They did it almost the entire damn movie.

    But I do see what you're saying about the gritty death/violence. I noticed that while watching it, and I did enjoy how they portrayed it.

  6. If you don't like the formula you're in for a long month - and Lord help you next week.

  7. To be honest, the formula itself doesn't bother me (unless the "tells us the same characteristics over and over again" thing really is in every western). I don't mind a slow burn film. With this one, the thing that got me about the beginning was either the horrible acting, writing, and/or directing that took place in that first 30-40 minutes (prior to English Bob showing up).

  8. The characteristic thing might indeed keep coming up. You'll know for certain after GOOD/BAD/UGLY since that's a more prototypical western.

    PS - Guess what character trait you learn about those three characters?

    As for that opening, I think the direction is solid and the writing "good enough". The problem is probably in the acting since it's carried mostly by Clint (never confused for a really great actor) and the kid (who brings nothing to the character)

    It's alright though...they make up for it all by the end.

  9. I think its a greatb film. I think everyone has their concerns with certain genres but, put it to one side. Westerns have a huge following for a reason - think of the good things - the stunning landscapes, the masculinity, the showdowns and shoot outs in the saloons. The thing is, UNFORGIVEN is made years and years after the genre was established and so it reflects on the genre. Off the top of my head, THE SEARCHERS has a similar post-western quality to it too.

    I can't leave this post without linking to the podcast when we discussed it... so, check it out Nickif you haven't heard it already:


    Dated 7th March 2010

  10. OH! What a heart-breaking review -- I love the hell out of this movie, and am sorry to hear you didn't care for it.

    Granted, if you're going in looking for a straight-up actioner, you're definitely going to be disappointed. But as a meditation on violence? That's the main thrust of your Oscar love right there.

    Better buckle up for the rest of the month.

  11. Let's just say... tomorrow's review (hopefully) makes up for it.


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