Unforgiven takes an unconventional approach to the Western genre. It has an outlaw who did horrible things back in the day as a mildly good person while the sheriff of the town is an amoral person who believes he is righteous. It also presents violence not as playful, energetic, and fun but as painful, brutal, and psychologically wounding. At the end the outlaw must put on the hat of his former self for justice.
It began with Sergio Leone. Three times. It went on five times: 'Hang 'em High' 1968, 'High Plains Drifter' 1973, 'The Outlaw Josey Wales' 1976, 'Pale Rider' 1985, 'Unforgiven' 1992. The last four ones are directed by Eastwood himself. Same type of character all over; no change. But still cool. Absolutely cool. These eight movies are a class of its own. The ultimate outlaw presented by uncomparable Clint Eastwood.
Interesting that its legacy is one of genre bookend when in fact it can be read (well I read it) as an update to 90s capitalist realist morals, or whatever libertarians are calling this take on stoicism and self-reliance. I was alerted to Unforgiven because a friend commented on the meaning of its written prologue/epilogue — the only ambiguity I remain a fan of.
Eastwood's accomplished revisionist Western brought new life to a genre long outdated and wizened. Clint explores society and morality, revenge, compassion, racism and misogyny, displaying a string of ambiguous characters all swinging from good to evil. He demystifyed the Old Far West and buried its cliches with fine elegance and raw drama. The last shoot-out at Big Whiskey will rest on the Olimpus of cinema forever.
Final statement of Eastwood as orator of the American west. His character like a cross-section of his past protagonists (creating a sense of the concluding chapter of a career-long journey from innocence into the abyss); a man who has committed the worst atrocity & found himself transformed by it; striving to find peace but still pulled back into the brutality & the bloodshed. A meditation on violence without equal.