Connect with us


25 Years Later: ‘Unforgiven’ Is Still The Last Truly Great Western



Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven hit US theatres August 7, 1992, and was instantly solidified as a modern classic. Making back more than ten times its budget at the box office and scoring Eastwood his first two Academy Awards (Best Director and Best Picture), the acclaimed revisionist Western would become a favourite of many, with a legacy that hasn’t diminished. You can say what you like when it comes to Clint’s directorial skills – whether or not his films tend to be derivative or “safe” is irrelevant when it comes to what has proved to be his magnum opus. A quarter of a century ago, a great Western was unleashed upon the world, and there hasn’t been one to match it since.

That’s not to say that the genre hasn’t had its fair share of memorable films in subsequent years. The Coen Brothers did a damn fine job in remaking True Grit in 2010, and the 3:10 to Yuma remake isn’t half bad, either. However, there is a certain essence missing from those films that can’t be artificially created. The death of the Old West is a narrative device that is well-established in popular fiction (anybody who’s played Red Dead Redemption knows all too well how heart breaking it can be to let that bird spread its wings), and while Unforgiven isn’t set during the modernization of the Western Frontier, its content serves as a meta narrative for Eastwood’s own career.


The progression of the Western genre is a fascinating case study, as the transfer from the classic John Ford era into Sergio Leone’s violent, bloody affairs called for a new type of leading man. Gone was the all-American hero John Wayne, and in came the anti-heroic, hyper-masculine badass, Clint Eastwood. The reinvention of this American staple breathed new life into the imagination of filmmakers; it was provocative, it was exciting. A new star was born as the viewing public questioned their views on what made a “good guy” when it came to their movies. As time wore on, so did a genre that had been a cash cow for Hollywood executives since 1903’s The Great Train Robbery.

The Western severely dropped off during the 1970s, a decade which gave rise to both the action thriller genre and blockbuster filmmaking. People wanted hard-boiled detectives and car chases, they wanted giant sharks terrifying beach towns, they wanted space wizards with laser swords; there was no longer a place for six shooters and spurs, and the uber-violent action spectacles of the 80s would only dig the grave deeper. Even Eastwood himself had moved on from his roots, taking up the mantle as the iconic “Dirty” Harry Callahan – he was a cowboy no more. All of this progression feeds into the greatness of what was to come, and is also why such greatness can never be replicated.

Eastwood, now in his sixties and an already established director, made what is his most reflective, personal piece, with such a timely quality that is as close to perfect as one can get. On the surface, Unforgiven is fairly straightforward: William Munny (Eastwood) is hunting down two criminals who were allowed to escape harsh punishment for a horrific crime due to a brutal sheriff, “Little” Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman). However, there is a more complex morality at play here. Munny was a murderous criminal in his past, while Daggett is a supposed representative of justice, not even allowing people to carry guns in his town. Munny’s intentions are far from noble, as his hunting of the two criminals is purely for financial gain, as his farm is failing. Such tropes are typical of the revisionist Western subgenre, which aims to expose the uglier side of the American Old West, flipping the typical “Good vs. Evil” dichotomy on its head.

While Eastwood wasn’t the first filmmaker to explore the morally-blurred lines found in Unforgiven, no other work in the genre captures the career of the man helming it so accurately. Much like the character Clint is portraying, he is an aging figure who has moved on from his past and has hung up his cowboy boots. Munny being plunged back into this world of violence and frontier justice was Eastwood’s own triumphant return to the genre, but was it a truly heroic comeback, or a melancholy reminder of how much we’ve romanticized the old days? As the film concludes, Munny is a killer again, embracing his former animalistic side, and he leaves on a sour note. The audience is then told he moved to San Francisco to become a dry goods salesman. He wasn’t back in the game to stay, and neither was Clint Eastwood.

Unforgiven served as a send-off for the last living Western icon. The film wasn’t derivative or ironic – it was a sincere culmination of America’s most celebrated genre. Nowadays, the very best Westerns are often contemporary in their setting, from No Country for Old Men to Breaking Bad, and are all made by people who can only look back in time at what inspired them. Eastwood, on the other hand, was a part of that movement, an icon who will forever be known by millions as The Man with No Name. In making a film that acts as an exercise in career retrospective, pure Western DNA runs through the veins of Unforgiven, and that just can’t be recreated in something that is made by an artist who operates in a successive era.

If you’re a fan of Eastwood’s masterpiece and you are looking for an excuse to watch it again, then the silver anniversary is as good a time as any. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, then it’s one that many would rightfully recommend, especially if one is enthusiastic about the work of Clint Eastwood. It’s not a perfect film, nor is it for everyone, but what it represents as the definitive end of the Western era in cinema makes it a modern entry in the genre with no equal.

  • Thomas Broome-Jones

Thomas is an aspiring writer residing just outside of London, England. His work has been featured on a myriad of websites, with his speciality being editorials on a wide range of subjects. His main passions lie in film, video games, literature, and professional wrestling. He is currently working on a novel and also runs his own blog, where his more personal views on popular culture can be found. When he isn't writing, you can find him relaxing by playing an old school pen and paper RPG with his friends and allowing himself to be far too easily drawn into online arguments. He also appreciates a good cup of coffee.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot



Imelda Marcos in The Kingmaker

The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.

The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.

The Kingmaker Imelda

Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016. 

For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.

We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them. 

But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein. 

The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day. 

And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.

The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory. 

Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject. 

Continue Reading


‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past



Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

Continue Reading


‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.



Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

Continue Reading