Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven is a film I grew up around, but never watched. My father talked about it all the time. When I told my brother I’d never seen it, let alone Dad, there was stunned disbelief. It’s always been there, hovering like this thing you’re expected to do at some point. I guess I can check that off of my list of things to do.

Intricately written, with simple dialogue and complex character structure, it’s a beautifully executed modern Western – there aren’t many of them. Eastwood did an excellent job with the film. Interestingly enough, he’d said this would be his last simultaneous acting and directing job. As we now know, this was not the case.

What I’m most taken with are the landscapes. I am Canadian, and proud to be. I’ve gone on two separate road trips across the East coast, through the cliffs of the Cabot Trail in Baddeck, Nova Scotia (possibly my favorite province), and the vibrant green fields of Prince Edward Island. I have never seen anything like what Alberta has to offer. And now it’s all I can think about. All I want to do is run off to some ranch in Southern Alberta, ride through the fields and mountains by day, and sleep under the stars at night.

Almost exclusively filmed in Alberta, this is still considered an American film. It’s unfortunate how much financing dictates. But this is one of the many dilemmas that Canada faces in the film industry – misrepresentation and shoddy PR. It’s rare that Canada is shot as itself, not slathered in the makeup of another part of the world. But this is a bigger issue that merits its own piece – the problems of Canadian cinema, a shameful oxymoron.

I have to be honest, the story didn’t move me. I like Clint Eastwood, and I believe he’s created some remarkable characters and stories over the years. He has a gift – but as an actor, I’ve felt a little indifferent to him. He has his moments, but he doesn’t truly get my engine revving. I watch Daniel Day Lewis or Gary Oldman and I feel compelled. I watch Eastwood and I see an iconic caricature. A talented one, but a caricature none the less. Makes me sad. I wish I cared for him more as a performer.

This is little more than personal preference. I can see why it’s regarded as one of the best Westerns of all time. The performances are memorable (in spite of my distaste for Eastwood) – Richard Harris as the woefully underused English Bob kept me enthralled for every second of his screen time. Anna Levine’s Delilah Fitzgerald is heartbreaking, while Francis Fisher’s Strawberry Alice is the picture of feminine ferocity.

The score, originally composed by Eastwood, is simple and elegant – a kind of peaceful lullaby in the storm of Munny’s life. Though the orchestral swells feel heavy handed for such a organic film, the final acoustic chords finish the film on a warmly sombre introspective note.

I hate that my biggest problem with the film is Eastwood’s performance – I want nothing more than to love him endlessly in this, but I don’t. He’s missing the bite of past characters, such as Blondie. The whole thing felt a lot softer around the edges than I’d have liked. Not my favorite of this project, but still remarkable in its own right.

This post was originally published on my tumblr on April 3, 2012.