A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven
William Munny: Clint Eastwood
Little Bill Daggett: Gene Hackman
Ned Logan: Morgan Freeman
English Bob: Richard Harris
The Schofield Kid: Jaimz Woolvett
W.W. Beauchamp: Saul Rubinek
Strawberry Alice: Frances Fisher
Delilah Fitzgerald: Anna Levine

Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: David Webb Peoples
Cinematography: Jack N. Green
Production design: Henry Bumstead
Film editing: Joel Cox
Music: Lennie Niehaus

Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven is the one "real" Western to win a best picture Oscar. Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles, 1931) is more about a fractured marriage, politics and land development in the Oklahoma Territory than about gunfire; Dances With Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990) is preoccupied with revising our views of the American Indian; and No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2007), though it doesn't lack for gunfire, is set in our times, not in the days of gunslingers and dance-hall girls. Unforgiven also a very good movie, though not a classic on the order of Westerns the Academy mostly cold-shouldered, like Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948) or The Wild Bunch (1969). It placed Eastwood among the pantheon of contemporary directors, though Eastwood had the grace to dedicate the film to John Ford and the less-celebrated directors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; the latter two had made him a star and taught him the trade. Eastwood is a good director by virtue of not overreaching: He reportedly stuck closely to David Webb Peoples's screenplay, which provided him with characters of considerable depth. Gene Hackman's Little Bill Daggett is a nasty villain, but Peoples gives him a human side with his obsessive work on his house and a porch he can sit on and watch the sunset. What Peoples doesn't give Eastwood is a wholly satisfactory ending: The movie builds to the concluding shootout, even after we have been led to think that there's more to Eastwood's William Munny than just an old gunfighter in retirement. Earlier, we have seen evidence that Munny has lost his shooting skills, but suddenly at the end he's able to gun down a roomful of armed men with complete ease. Others object to the rather inessential stuff like the episode involving English Bob, and Saul Rubinek's writer in search of a subject for pulp-magazine hagiography is an overworked caricature. Still, for most of the picture Eastwood skates over the clichés and conceals vague motives -- like the swiftness with which Munny decides to leave his two children to fend for themselves while he follows the young would-be gunfighter on a foolish mission -- so that we don't have time to be bothered by them too much.

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