Unforgiven (1992)

A vicious killer comes out of retirement to avenge the mutilation of a prostitute in Clint Eastwood’s complex, morally ambiguous and Oscar-winning Western.

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Alternative titles

  • The William Munny Killings Working


“In his 10th excursion into the genre that made him a star more than 25 years ago, Clint Eastwood has crafted a tense, hard-edged, superbly dramatic yarn that is also an exceedingly intelligent meditation on the West, its myths and its heroes.”
Todd McCarthy, Variety, 1992

Winner of richly-deserved Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, Clint Eastwood’s meditation on the morality of the Old West is simultaneously revisionist and fiercely traditional. Revisionist because screenwriter David Webb Peoples constantly undermines the notion that the history of the western was invariably one of good guys and bad guys. Here, Eastwood’s ‘hero’ is – by reputation at least – a vicious killer of women and children, while Gene Hackman’s ‘villain’ is merely trying to keep order and finish building his house. Traditional because Eastwood is still in thrall to American cinema’s defining genre: it’s a classical western in the great tradition of The Searchers (1956).

Eastwood also how myths were deliberately engineered: Richard Harris’ itinerant gunfighter ‘English Bob’ travels with his biographer (Saul Rubinek) in tow, and while Eastwood’s grizzled William Munny keeps insisting “I ain’t like that no more”, we all know that his past will resurface before the film’s tragically violent conclusion.

Post-Unforgiven Westerns include Walter Hill’s Geronimo (1993) and Wild Bill (1995), John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005) and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).

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