The other day I saw my second Western. The first Western I saw was The Searchers, but it was immediately clear that Unforgiven was a different creature entirely.
Unforgiven is a revisionist Western, which aims to portray the American West in a more realistic light than old Westerns. Dark and gritty, it paints a very bleak picture of life in the late 19th century. The film’s protagonist is William Munny (Clint Eastwood), “a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition” who has given up alcohol and violence under the influence of his late wife. He is persuaded out of ‘retirement’ by a man calling himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), who tells him of a prostitute whose face was cut up by two cowboys, and of how she is offering a $1000 dollar reward to anyone who can assassinate them. Together with Will’s old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), they set out on this quest.
So far, this sounds not too dissimilar to The Searchers, given that both are Westerns and both feature revenge as a prominent theme. However, the similarity pretty much ends there. Unforgiven is much more violent and much darker, and lacks an obvious moral hero. Instead, it systematically deconstructs each aspect of the myth of the Old West as immortalised in older Westerns and dime novels: the lone hero, the gunfight, the cowboy, the sheriff. In fact, a dime novel author appears in the film, and is portrayed in a not-terribly-flattering light. The portrayal of women is certainly an improvement on older films, with some very strong female characters.
One aspect of this film that I found somewhat problematic was the abscence of a truly likeable major character. Just about everybody in the film is corrupt, or cruel, or vindictive. The plot is also depressing and tragic.
Unforgiven is an exciting and action-packed film, but a very grim and serious one. The level of violence is perhaps rather off-putting, although to the film’s credit, the impact of this violence is portrayed realistically and taken seriously, another element of the film’s revision of the Western formula. The characters themselves are also very convincing, believably portrayed by some extremely talented actors.
All that said, the film was not really to my taste, but it was definitely a high quality film and definitely worth seeing.
Current listening: Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, “Port na bPucai / Kilnamona Barndance / Ship In Full Sail / Jer The Rigger / The Old Blackthorn / Exile of Erin / Humours Of Tulla / Fitzgerald’s Hornpipe / Rakish Paddy / Finbarr Dwyer’s Reel No. 1 / P Joe’s Precurious Pachelbel Special”.