Up on Netflix, my 2nd favorite modern (well, you know, post-Spaghetti) western; Tombstone is 1st, obvs, guess Lonesome Dove is 3rd largely for the late, greatly missed Bob Urich.
So. This is more a character/actor study than a film with a plot as such.
Clint as Bill Munny does not really pass as the broke-down tired old farmer he’s supposed to be at start. Looks like a guy you’d shoot first in self-defense. And he only gets meaner as it goes on. He does pass for desperate, though.
Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan doesn’t want to be here. He’s joining the party but there’s no sense of desperation. He’s got a happy life with his Indian wife, and Morgan was probably a billionaire already, fat and lazy.
The kid, Jaimz Woolvett, is more pathetic than anything. I see the appeal of being a gunslinger, but this fake it till you make it act is lame. And the actor’s never made it big again since then.
The “cut up” whore, Anna Thompson, is mostly silent, and the cuts are almost invisible. In a time when half the population had smallpox scars, nobody’d think twice. Writing, makeup, and directing falls down spectacularly about her, and the rest of the whores are a Greek chorus to the madam who’s driving this mess.
Gene Hackman as Little Bill, now, plays a spectacularly nasty son of a bitch. Doesn’t seem corrupt, just got no sense of consequences to his inept actions. He likes power over people, imitates the kind of policing Wild Bill Hickok or Wyatt Earp did without understanding it.
The English Bob and Beauchamp episode’s useful for setting Little Bill’s character, and I like seeing Richard Harris take a beating for spouting off on monarchy as much as the next regicide-minded American, but it’s kinda slow, tell-not-show, and at least one of the stories he tells is stolen directly from Wild Bill Hickok.
A while back I read Richard Matheson’s Journal of the Gun Years, another fictional parallel to Wild Bill Hickok’s life (Unforgiven’s script is unrelated, dates back to the ’70s & ’80s, but Matheson published first). Like any Matheson book, it’s more full of despair, horror, and sympathy and motivation for evil than any film can ever match. Unforgiven’s portrait of Little Bill is no Clay Hauser, but it’s not bad for a mere film where he’s not even the protagonist.
The first two killings are miserable and hard. Most of the real gunslingers weren’t assassins for this reason; they killed in self-defense, or drunk, or over cards or women, or hunting a legal bounty. This half-assed bounty from whores is some cold blooded shit, and they hurt for it as they should. “We all have it comin’, kid.”
The capture, crucifixion, & torture of Ned Logan would be a lot less racially charged if anyone else in this film was black. There were a lot of black cowboys and whores; even in Wyoming, it’d make a cattle town more plausible and this scene less… what it is.
And then the fucking apocalypse comes. It’s fantastic; both in the sense of a great gunfight, and the kind of thing that never happened in the old days, but stories say did.
HD is not this film’s friend. Shots are just blood squibs, no latex special effects let alone CGI (barely possible at the time). Rain machine rain is really terrible looking. One-armed deputy isn’t as one-armed as he seems to be. Sigh.
I know there’s a recent Japanese adaptation, which maybe I should see.
“A known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.”