Eastwood as SNAMK

Issue 

Unforgiven
Written by David Webb Peoples
Directed by Clint Eastwood
With Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris
Showing at Village, Greater Union and Hoyts Cinemas
Reviewed by Max Lane

Unforgiven is a very good Western: if you enjoy the genre, you will enjoy the film. Strong, sympathetic heroes blending in with the panoramic and beautifully filmed countryside, baddies who are unlikeable to their very essence, a believable depiction of the primitive small town community of the US West, cowboy humour, dramatic tension, action and clear-cut notions of good and evil: Unforgiven has all these.

But more has been claimed for it. In the publicity, much has been made of Eastwood's assertion that the film takes a more reflective and perhaps even critical look at the kind of violence his films have been known for in the past. In this respect, Eastwood has produced a very manipulative film which, in the last instance, does not shift out of the framework of the orthodox, buddy-film celebration of individual male violence.

Eastwood plays William Munny, a reformed pathological killer. Munny killed women and children in a bomb attack, for no reason whatsoever shot a shepherd through the mouth so that his teeth were blown out the back of his head, and killed for money as well as the heck of it. He was so mean, he reminisces, even the other members of his gang were always afraid that one day he would up and kill all of them.

Munny has been saved from his murderous pathology by his wife. Fortunately for the director and screenwriter, the wife is dead, so they don't actually have to deal with the relationship from which this cure emerged.

Munny is now a pig farmer, but his pigs have the fever. And so, out of the desire to provide for his children, the reformed Munny decides to kill two more men for money. The money is on offer from the prostitutes in the brothel of the town of Big Whiskey, one of whom was slashed around the face by two cowboys.

It is during the ride out to the town to kill the two men that Eastwood starts to comment on the effect of a life of killing. Munny has nightmares about corpses covered with worms. He muses, grim faced and worried, about the people he has killed. He has a certain glazed look in the eyes, full of uncertainty and guilt.

Still, he cold-bloodedly kills the two cowboys and collects the money, even if it is true that he does it with the same glazed-eyed guilty look. Call him a SNAMK: sensitive new age mass killer.

At this point Eastwood drops all pretensions of producing a "Western of a different kind". Munny discovers that his buddy (Morgan Freeman), who dropped out of the killing party due to the proddings of his conscience, has been tortured to death by the local sheriff (Gene rogant and mean and violent and totally unlikeable character.

So Eastwood takes a drink of whiskey — which he has refused to do all through the movie out of deference to the desires of his dear departed wife — and then rides into town for the classic goodies versus baddies shoot-out scene.

The rest of the town is cowed by this act of violence and Munny rides off and becomes a successful dry goods shopkeeper in San Francisco. He leaves behind, by my count, at least seven men dead. So John Wayne rides again.

No doubt, however, he still, from time to time, has nightmares.