A genre that is as old as the American movie industry itself, the Western is as much a staple of film as science fiction or fantasy, genres that get told on pages of literature but have a certain grandiosity that movies are uniquely equipped to provide. Unforgiven comes from a director well acquainted with the genre. Eastwood is best known for his portrayal of the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western movies culminating with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So he knew the territory well going into his own project, a pre-ordained farewell to the genre by one of its foremost veterans.
The result was a movie that took a surprising complex view of the Western. There’s something compelling about the elder statesman looking back on things, sharing pearls of wisdom about the progress or regression that’s been made. Often this consists of a lamentation that their relevance has passed. As the aged hero of Unforgiven, Eastwood calls into question the notion of heroism and justice in an environment where the right thing is not always so clear cut. It’s rightly referred to as an anti-Western, calling into question the very ideals upon which the traditional Westerns thrived. Its pacing and visuals also reflect this theme of aging, with the land itself appearing as old and tired as its hero, and its rhythm as careful and deliberate as a senior on stairs. This offers more pause, and more time for reflection on complicated matters like the ones presented in the film.
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