by Dan Moray
Unforgiven opens with a wide shot of a barren landscape, a solitary farmhouse, and a man working an ax. Over this serene though stark sunset, director Clint Eastwood uses plain rolling text as an introduction to the main characters of the film. We read of an unnamed woman described as "comely and not without prospects." Against her mother's wishes, this woman marries a man named William Munny, a "known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition." She dies in 1887. He doesn't kill her; smallpox does. Because we never see her face or hear her voice, the piety and righteousness of her life is an image left to the mind. How clever. How personal. How vague.
The film fades to black, and we are transported to 1890 Wyoming, to a little outpost on the fringe with the best-named town a western film could ask for, Big Whiskey. Without wasting time, Eastwood throws us into a whorehouse full of action. A cowboy slashes the face of one of the women, and all the madness and screaming ends with a sound we've come to know and love in our westerns a gun being cocked. Everything stops at the sound. And we meet "Little Bill," the arrogantly violent sheriff whose deviously sadistic authority is the only law in Big Whiskey. Little Bill leads the townspeople like sheep, with an ironfisted yet whimsical enforcement of laws. This time, his whim is to do nothing except give the whorehouse owner some ponies as compensation for his lost income. Enraged, the whores pool up money as a reward to anyone who kills the cowboys involved in the slashing. After all, as Madam Delilah says, "just because we let them smelly fools ride us like horses doesn't mean we have to let 'em brand us like horses."
Now the film takes us back to the farm. When the Schofield Kid, in search of a partner to help him
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