Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Unforgiven (1992)

This may surprise you, but this is the first time I've ever seen Unforgiven.  It's not like I have consciously avoided it, or anything like that.  I just missed it at the cinema and then never got around to seeing it.  In fact, it only came back onto my radar now because I've been watching a few westerns and thought I should finally pay a visit to the film that is often credited with launching the genre's early 90s renaissance.  That claim is overblown in my opinion; both Young Guns and Dances With Wolves pre-date it and were very successful films; but it was certainly a commercial and critical success.

Bill Munny was a bad man in his youth: a thief and a murderer.  But then he fell in love, settled down, and became a father.  Even after his wife died of smallpox, he struck to his reformed ways.  No drinking, no fighting.  Just raising his kids on his small farm.

It's not really a life for which he is well-suited, though, and when young gunslinger offers him half of a thousand dollar bounty, Bill is sorely tempted.  The bounty is for the killing of two cowboys who cut up a woman's face.  Since she was a whore, the men got off with nothing more than a fine.  The other women at the brothel weren't satisfied with that (and who can blame them) and they raised the reward.

It's been over a decade since Munny shot at a man, but he really needs the cash ...

Unforgiven has a quality cast who turn in fine performances, and it is visually striking too, with strong use of light and shadow.  For me though it does fall down a bit on the script side of things.  It's a slow-paced film, with more secondary characters than it really needs and a lot more first act than third.  It's quite deliberate in both those things, I think, as an intentional response to the more traditional structure of the genre ... but at the end of the day it all comes down to a gunfight in a saloon anyway, so the deconstruction feels a little undercooked, despite all the time time committed to it.

Still, you've got a strong cast here and they all deliver the goods, so if you don't mind the rather bleak tone of it all, it's certainly watchable.

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