Unforgiven (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There was a TV series some years back, "Best of the West", which disappeared as fast as it came, but I remember one scene where a guy said to the fearsome killer The Calico Kid (played by Christopher LLoyd!), "Kid, you can't shoot women and children, what about your reputation?" Lloyd looked at him with the typical Reverend Jim confusion and said "that IS my reputation".

"Unforgiven" is the serious version of that anecdote.

In his lifetime, Clint Eastwood has directed two brilliant Westerns. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1976), a big sweeping, authentic but almost romantic story, was the apotheosis of the genre. "Unforgiven" (1992) was the revisionist view, Eastwood's statement that his favorite genre was essentially a lie. Looky here, he tells us, this is what the West was really like. The killers couldn't shoot, the guns didn't fire, the biographers told a pack of lies, and justice was dispensed unjustly. Women were oppressed chattel, nobody could read, and kids were abandoned. Not only that, but it was always raining and too stinking cold or hot to enjoy being a cowboy or a gunslinger. Their romantic killing often consisted of wiping out women and children, or shooting guys while they were shitting, or shooting their own toes off when they went for their guns, or dying in very unpleasant conditions. And when their day was over, there was nothing for the guys to do in the evening but sleep with skanky whores, and drink, and there was not even a decent bed to sleep in afterwards.

Unfortunately, the film starts with a shabby cliche. Eastwood plays a former killer who left all that behind for the love of a good woman, but his wife passed away, and Eastwood was failing as a farmer. He loved his two kids, but times were hard and he needed the money, so he left the farm for ......

( have you guessed the cliche yet?)

... "one last job" - the oldest cliche in the movie book. Oh, well, we'll forgive him that cliche, because he nimbly deflated all the other ones with a great script and a wry, ironic eye.

The killer/farmer teams up with another old geezer and a recklesss young kid to collect the $1000 reward posted by some prostitutes to avenge one of their abused colleagues. Simple enough, kill the two cowpokes who cut up a whore, collect the money and go home, right?


  • no female nudity
  • Rob Campbell's butt was seen briefly in the opening scene with the hookers
Not so simple at all. First of all, these bounty hunters aren't so slick. Eastwood is sickly and old, and can't even remember how to ride a horse. His old partner, Morgan Freeman, can still shoot the lights out, but has no more taste for it. And the kid is all talk - he's never killed anyone, and he is nearly blind when it comes to objects more than 100 feet away. So the greenhorn and the two old geezers ride off to catch cold, and fall off their horses, and what have you. Eastwood can't even mount his horse without falling in the mud. The situation is actually funny to us, if not to them.

In addition to their own incompetence, the other thing standing between them and the reward is Little Bill, a cold-blooded gunslinger turned sheriff, who is trying to bring the law to his town, through any means necessary. He has an anti-firearm ordinance in his county, and he simply kicks the shit out of anyone who disobeys it, including Eastwood.

It's a very fine film, recognized as the Best Picture in 1992. In addition to the awards and nominations, it was highly successful at the US box office.

It takes all the best elements of the Western Film, economical, straightforward storytelling, colorful characters, and non-stop action, and retains them, but blends them with the best elements of other types of filmmaking. There are also silent slow-paced scenes that let the tension build, long panoramic landscapes, darkly atmospheric outdoor shots, gloomy interiors, and spectacular cinematography.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Two versions: 2.35:1 widescreen, and a 4:3 on the other side.

  • Looks good, but no significant features

Other thoughts:
  • The sub-plot with Richard Harris was totally unnecessary, and added twenty minutes to an already long film. (Final running time: 140 minutes). They could have found another way to integrate the author into the plot.

  • I think it should have had a murky, gloomy, completely unhappy ending, with Eastwood dying face-down in the mud and his kids crying for his loss, instead of the pseudo-happy pseudo-honorable ending where he kills all who have offended him and rides off back to his farm. In the closing moments, a word slide appears to tell us that he moved to the Coast and made a fortune in dry goods. Sell out, much, Clint? That means he was forgiven, dammit, despite the title.


The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

  • Won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1992, Eastwood won for Best Director. Also won Oscars for Gene Hackman and the film editor, and was nominated for five others.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.9, 141st best of all time.
  • With their dollars ... it was a major success. Took in $100 million in the USA (11th-best of the year), and another $40 million in rentals. Westerns aren't as marketable overseas, but it still grossed another $60 million across the world.
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. It won't win you over if you can't stand gloomy ultra-violent films, but if you have an open mind, it's impressive.

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