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From Under A Rock: Unforgiven

June 25, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Unforgiven  

Film critics and historians have proclaimed the Western to be “dead” for a long time. While it is certainly true that the genre isn’t as prolific as it once was, there have always been attempts to keep it alive. Some succeed (Django Unchained, Tombstone, the Coens’ True Grit), others not so much (The Lone Ranger). Today we are examining a film that was considered to be “a fitting eulogy” for the Western. But it’s not dead yet.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael and Aaron needed a bigger boat as they watched Jaws. This week, Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock by showing him Unforgiven.

Released: August 7th, 1992
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: David Webb Peoples
Clint Eastwood as William “Will” Munny
Gene Hackman as “Little” Bill Daggett
Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan
Jaimz Woolvett as The Schofield Kid
Richard Harris as English Bob

Aaron Hubbard I’ve watched this film twice in the last few months, and it’s impressed me both times. What really struck me was how the film looked like it was made thirty or forty years earlier, aside from the age of the actors. Eastwood really knew how to present the film, and I really appreciated that authenticity.

Michael Ornelas: I actually kind of disagree but in a way I really enjoyed. The setting certainly looked like a Western of old but the technology allowed for a certain vitality to the colors and everything else you see on the lens. I think the color palette of the movie is brilliant and it’s just such a treat to look at. I guess what I’m disagreeing with is the fact that you’re saying it looks like it was made decades prior to the 90s because I associate newer movies with a better visual styling. But we both clearly liked how it looked. Anyways, let’s jump into our actual dissection of the film.
Setting the Stage
Aaron: Unforgiven wastes no time in establishing a clear tone for the audience. We know from the opening crawl that Munny was a violent man. Our first real scene takes place in a brothel and sees a man cut up a woman for something very petty. When Daggett arrives to deal with it, the criminals get off with barely a slap on the wrist. The tone is established as brutal, immoral, and well, unforgiving. Knowing that the law isn’t serving the people (and as shown with English Bob soon after, violent in enforcing the status quo) allows us to understand why Munny, Schofield Kid, and Ned are the heroes of the story. Motivations are set up early, are easy to understand, and inform every action taken by the characters.

Michael: This movie’s momentum was weirdly what stood out to me the most. It really is a slow build all the way to the end, and it literally never strays from its mission. Every scene added to the narrative and served the endgame. That’s rare in movies. We didn’t get filler or even lighthearted “break the tension” scenes. Unforgiven meant business and by never relenting, it got that point across beautifully.

Aaron: I will disagree, but only slightly. Having seen the film twice, I think the character of English Bob feels like filler. I get why he is in the story; to introduce the writer to Daggett and to show how ruthless Daggett is. But he just shows up, says nothing relevant to the plot, gets beaten up, and moves along, thanks for coming. It’s a nitpick, and I loved seeing Richard Harris, but I feel like he’s going to annoy me on any subsequent viewings.
The Nature of Violence
Michael: The contrast between the portrayals of the wide-eyed Schofield Kid and the grizzled Munny (and in the same ways, Ned) is what made the themes of this movie work for me. Munny is driven by duty to his family and is disinterested in being the man he once was. He proved that intentions and motives matter more than your actions. The Schofield Kid (who I found incredibly immature and annoying for it) glorified violence and the desire to be an outlaw while Munny was just there to provide for his family. He didn’t want to be a killer, but that’s what he’s good at and his need to provide for his family propelled him. Does that make him a bad man? It’s an interesting theme to approach but throughout the movie, he maintained his honor. Ned was even further removed from that lifestyle because he couldn’t bring himself to be violent anymore. The story speaks to an ability to rise above what you once were and realize you were being immature. The Schofield Kid served as a reminder to Munny and Ned what they used to be and we get to see how far they’ve come. I think that’s a fascinating way to create the illusion of a character arc (because most of the growth with those two happened in the time before the movie even started).

Aaron: Uhhh… yeah. Basically all of that. That’s a great example of using a different form of narrative structure to make strong characters. We don’t have to know too many specifics to understand who these men are and how they relate to each other. But the characters are also very much a showcase of generations. We have the Old West outlaws, who come from a more violent, wilder time, and we have the next generation. Do we worship them as heroes, or realize they were a product of their time and move on with our lives? It’s a theme I have seen show up in a lot of Westerns, including Shane. Violence made the Wild West, but do we still need it, or should we grow up and stop playing cowboy?

Michael: It’s interesting that it’s been such a persistent theme of the genre dating back to the ‘50s. That’s forty years (at the time that this movie came out) that we were telling that story and you know what? It’s still relevant today, almost twenty-five years later. Clinging to the “old guard” has done more damage to society than we’d care to admit and truly impedes progress. But if we keep telling these stories, maybe it’ll do its part to help society strive for progress as a whole.
Tall Tales
Aaron: There’s a thematic undercurrent of exaggeration in this movie. The whores exaggerate the damage done to one of their own to make themselves more sympathetic. English Bob’s reputation precedes him, but he is shown to be merely human after all. Scholfield hears about Munny, but doesn’t know he is basically a farmer now. And of course Scholfield tries to sell himself to cover his inexperience and near-sightedness. It makes me think about how most Wild West stories have a basis in fact, but get exaggerated and embellished. Perhaps Eastwood was attempting to point to that and deconstruct things into a more grounded, realistic version of these ideas.

Michael: It certainly made for an interesting dissection of mythology. Hyperbole makes legends. That means those legends will always fall short of the tales that surround them. “Never meet your heroes” is a phrase I’ve heard before and it’s so true. The image of grandeur is really all larger-than-life figures have to work with but at the end of the day, everyone’s just human. No one’s perfect. I think that this movie is filled to the brim with that idea because no one truly lives up to their reputations.

Aaron: Something that clicked with me on the rewatch was how quickly the writer changes sides. First he is chronicling English Bob, venerating him as a sort of untouchable legend. Then he swiftly devotes himself to Daggett, who offers insight into the mentality of a killer. Finally, he meets Munny and sees him in action, and the respect and awe is clearly there. But while he is changing sides to progressively more talented gunslingers, he is also worshiping worse and worse people. I thought that was a pretty fascinating arc for a minor character.

Aaron: Unforgiven is a very well constructed film. It had gorgeous cinematography, interesting characters, a very strong narrative thrust, and plenty of biting commentary to spare. I really enjoyed it and enjoyed discussing it even more.


Michael: This was a remarkably enjoyable Western, and considering I haven’t dived too far into that well yet, I’m considering doing so now. Thematically, I really enjoyed this film and it’s pacing was unapologetically intense (not that it’s not slow, but it never shies away from driving the story forward). I liked it well enough to let it crack into the highest echelon of scores, so I’m going to give this an A-.


Aaron: I’m buying a collection of Clint Eastwood Westerns, including The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and I am looking forward to learning more.

Michael: Dibs on borrowing it when you’re done!

What is your favorite Clint Eastwood performance?

Next week:

Michael: Today, my most anticipated movie of the summer comes out: Swiss Army Man. If you haven’t seen the trailer, it’s ridiculous. The premise is nuts, and it’s going to be a blast. To pay homage to the amazing idea of that movie in reanimating a corpse and using it for a plethora of functions, I’m going to pick a movie for next week with a very similar beginning, but a wildly different premise and execution.
Aaron: This is one I am very excited to watch, it’s got a reputation as one of the smartest sci-fi action movies ever, despite its main character seemingly being conceived to sell toys.

Michael: It’s just fun. It’s the second “most ‘80s” action movie in my opinion, next to only Lethal Weapon.

Would you buy that for a dollar?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven

Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews Cosplaying as The Ultimate Warrior and makes a workout routine out of doing the guy’s entrance anywhere and everywhere. Enjoy!

This week and next, Aaron takes a break from comics to sink his teeth into Star Wars, namely The Force Awakens.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Unforgiven is Clint Eastwood's final western, and it's a worthy send-off for that portion of his career. Westerns have rarely looked better, but the story is also laser-focused and filled with the genre's strongest themes. It shouldn't be your first foray into the genre, but if you're a fan it's definitely worth seeking out.