Kerri Battles the AFI’s Top 100 – #68: Unforgiven
Intending to post about it last Thursday, I watched this movie almost two weeks ago. Unfortunately, I was so ill last week that I could no longer brain. My illness had given me the dumb and I was incapable of stringing together coherent thoughts, let alone sentences. When this weekend rolled around and I found myself feeling once again like a functional human being, I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. The standard operation procedure thus far has been as follows: 1. Watch next movie on list. 2. Write about said movie. 3. Repeat weekly. But what had appeared to be a perfect system was suddenly displaying some flaws. The only thing I could think to do was watch it again. And so, for the sake of you, dear reader, I sat through Unforgiven twice in 8 days. Oddly enough, my opinions changed very little between viewings.
Our film begins with a wide shot of a man in silhouette standing outside a small homestead at sunset as some text scrolls up the screen. From this text, we learn that there was once a very pretty girl who married a no-good, murderin’ thief named William Munny. No one understood her choice, least of all her mother, and everyone was surprised when smallpox took her life instead of Munny’s vicious hand. In Big Whiskey, Wyoming, a cowboy cuts up a prostitute’s face for laughing at his tiny, tiny penis. When Sheriff Little Bill Daggett says they only owe some ponies for the crime of destroying the saloon owner’s property, the other whores are less than satisfied. Pooling their savings, the place a $1000 bounty on the heads of the cowboy and his partner. This bounty attracts the attention of the Schofield Kid, who seeks out cold-blooded William Munny as his partner. Unfortunately, Munny is now a failing pig farmer, cured of “whisky and wickedness” by his dear departed wife. However, after a moment to reflect on how seriously he is failing at pigs, Munny changes his mind. He leaves his two small children to fend for themselves and collects his old partner, Ned, to catch up to the Schofield Kid. During the few days’ ride to Big Whiskey, we discover that the Schofield Kid is practically blind and that Munny really isn’t that mean murder anymore — he just really needs the money for a new start for his kids. When they finally arrive in Big Whiskey, Munny, cold, wet, and delirious with fever, runs afoul of Little Bill for refusing to relinquish his sidearm, as weapons are prohibited in the town. Daggett beats Munny senseless and it takes him three days to recover. By that time, Schofield and Ned are scouting the cowboys, preparing for an ambush. The trio succeeds — sort of. Ned discovers at the absolute wrong moment that he no longer has the stomach to murder a man, so Munny shoots one of the cowboys in the gut. As the trio heads off to hunt down the other cowboy, Ned decides he’s got to head home. Munny promises to deliver his share of the reward upon his return. Schofield and Munny happen upon the other cowboy and Schofield shoots him mid-shit in an outhouse. Meanwhile, Daggett captures Ned before he can get too far and tortures him for information. Daggett gets his info, killing Ned in the process. All set to head home to gather his children for a fresh start in San Francisco, Munny discovers from one of the prostitutes that Ned’s body is displayed as a warning outside Big Whiskey’s saloon. This is too much for Munny to take, so he returns to town and brutally guns down anyone who stands in his way. He shoots Daggett dead and tells the town that if they don’t give Ned a proper burial, he’ll come back and kill them all. As another sunset shot of the now abandoned homestead fills the screen, more scrolling text tells us that the pretty girl’s mother visited her grave just once and never discovered what happened to her grandchildren.
So let’s get down to it. Unforgiven is an incredibly engaging and twisting tale with carefully drawn characters and gorgeous cinematography. I get why the AFI included it on The List. Hell, I even agree with its inclusion. Having said that, I have a very serious confession to make. I know what I’m about to say is blasphemy and it feels wrong even thinking it, but I have to be honest here. I am completely incapable of taking Clint Eastwood seriously as an actor. This feeling didn’t go away upon my second viewing of Unforgiven, either. In fact, it actually got stronger. I’ve spent two weeks pondering this sacrilege and its potential origins. The only excuse I can offer is that I was born too late.
I was born on October 1st, 1981. I was not quite 11 when Unforgiven came out in the summer of ’92. So, no, I wasn’t exactly the prime demographic for Eastwood’s triumphant return to westerns. Rather, I was the target audience for the impeccable and would-be-classic after school cartoon offerings of The WB and Fox. I knew about Dirty Harry from the one impression everyone on the planet tried to do, including Jim Carrey. I knew Clint Eastwood was in westerns because Marty McFly adopted his look in order to blend in Back to the Future III. I knew about that movie he did with the orangutan because, well, I live in the world. But, until the past 2 Sundays in a row, I had never actually seen Clint Eastwood act in anything before. And, for 2 Sundays in a row, for 131 minutes at a time, all I could think was that Clint Eastwood really needed to work on his Clint Eastwood impression because it was coming across either wooden or overly exaggerated at any given time.
*Bonus Content: If you actually weren’t raised on 90s cartoons, I’m sorry for you because you were totally missing out: