The second stage of Clint Eastwood’s career – call it his Mea Culpa Tour – began in 1992 with “Unforgiven.”
The celebrated western found The Man With No Name paying the price for all those cinematic killings
But Eastwood was smart enough to wrap those misgivings in a terrific yarn, and even smarter to cast Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman in critical roles.
Oscar glory soon followed, and suddenly Eastwood’s brand became synonymous with award show buzz.
Eastwood stars as Bill Munny, a former gunfighter reduced to wrestling pigs on his modest farm. He stopped killing people years ago, and he doesn’t even touch the bottle like he once did.
But an offer to do a quick killing for a quicker payday is too much to resist. So he re-teams with his old partner Ned (Freeman) and sets out for the hunt. Their paths end up crossing Sheriff Daggett (Hackman, earning an Oscar for his troubles), a lawman with an ego too big for any two-bit town
Bill and Ned aren’t proud of their past, and no horse is hearty enough to ride them past their misdeeds. But right is right, and the actions of the dastardly sheriff and the men he shields from the law must be addressed.
The revisionist western embraces and explodes the genre’s mythos with remarkable grace, and there’s enough conventional action to please fans of Eastwood’s earlier, grittier films.
“Unforgiven” even finds time to introduce English Bob (Richard Harris) a famed gunslinger whose presence adds even more color and texture to a film already overloaded with both.
“Unforgiven” allowed Eastwood to begin aging gracefully on screen, embracing characters who acknowledged the passing of time but still mattered. It’s a journey that continues through today, even as the actor/director nears his 80th birthday.