Unforgiven

AFI Rank: #98
Year Released: 1992
Director: Clint Eastwood
Actors: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris

Unforgiven earned a #98 spot on the initial AFI top 100 listing and moved up to #68 in their 10 year anniversary revote. It well deserves this ranking, if not a higher one. The movie features stellar acting, amazing dialogue, gorgeous landscapes, and a compelling story of a gunfighter who is trying to "do right" and leave behind his previous life of violence.

Eastwood is only lured back into strapping on his guns because his children are near starving, and the cause is just - a prostitute was cruelly sliced up by a cowboy. He enlists friend Freeman to help him with his task. Hackman and Harris are superb as other gun-wearing characters in this investigation of motives and characters.

Every person here feels authentic and real. The Sheriff wants to keep the peace, but can be a bully in his task. He has a quiet home he's trying to build, and he enjoys sharing his experiences. Freeman's relationship with his wife, the gentle way he deals with Woolvett, how he handles the shooting scene, are all amazing to watch. In each case the watcher gets drawn into what is happening through the subtle dialogue and the character's actions, rather than with bland statements found in many other westerns.

It's interesting that I watched this back-to-back with Shane. I am still surprised that Unforgiven ranks "worse" than Shane on the AFI lists. They handle extremely similar topics - how an ex-gunfighter copes with a world that has moved on around him. But Unforgiven is full of rounded characters, of powerful dialogue, and of a world we can immerse in. When Eastwood returns home at the end, it's an extremely powerful moment, and there was a real sense of the transformation which had occurred over the course of the film.

Unforgiven also gets great credit for how well it involves women in the storyline. Many westerns seem to feel that women were non-existent in the West, only there to be stolen by "wild Indians" or to scream in horror as their menfolk went off to do some fighting. In Unforgiven, we get a range of very powerful female characters. The main group are the prostitutes, who take a stand against being treated like property and who end up having an impact with their actions. Even Freeman's wife gives a subtle yet powerful performance as the reluctant one left behind.

Well deserving of winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Supporting Actor for Hackman's Sheriff character. To me this is what a western should be all about. The challenges of living in a rough land, the challenges of dealing with the tumultuous societal changes that were going on, the clashes between different groups of people, and the rough, wild, fantastically beautiful scenery that it was all set in.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100