Short version: The last of an era?
Watching True Grit last week put me in a Western mood, and since I had never seen Unforgiven, I queued it up from The Netflix. Great cast (Eastwood, Hackman, Freeman, and Richard Harris). It won Best Picture (and Hackman won for Best Supporting). And I’d bet it’s the last True Western made, or at least I can’t think of another like it since.
If you’ve seen a classic Clint Eastwood Western, you pretty much know what to expect from Unforgiven, with the twist that this is basically capital-C Clint coming out of retirement to do one last killin’. He teams up with his old partner (Freeman), and a new ‘kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) to kill two cowboys who cut up a lady, and claim the bounty for it.1
I think there are two things that mark this movie as the last of the Westerns, at least in our current movie climate. First, the pace. It’s a slow movie. (Note: I do not think that this is a bad thing.) We get plenty of time with all the characters to establish who they are,
and what they’re doing, and why. I enjoyed it, but it was jarring. I’m not used to watching movies like this anymore. The second thing: Not only did this movie not glorify killing, it made shooting a man a very difficult thing. Morgan Freeman lost his nerve and couldn’t shoot the first cowboy, and the Kid, for all his big talk, had never shot a man until he killed the second cowboy, and he couldn’t handle it afterwards. The movie spent time on this to make a point of it. (Note: I also do not think that this is a bad thing.) Even Gene Hackman’s character, played so well as an almost reluctant villain, never shot anyone in the movie.
In any case, for a 20 year old movie, Unforgiven holds up quite well. I’m glad I watched it.
- Thought: Is this the Lethal Weapon of Westerns? Sadly, at no point does Morgan Freeman say: “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit!” ↩