When I think of this movie I get a strange feeling. It was a departure from typical Hollywood fare (usually a good thing) but I don’t know that it was “revolutionary”. It was awarded “Best Picture” for 1992 which sort of amazes me but I don’t remember what other “hits” it was running against.
Similar to the latest generation of “war movie” director and star Clint Eastwood seems to have matured. Realism seemed to have been a high priority especially in how the characters were portrayed. There were no super-heroes or despicable villains. There were characters you identified with a little more and characters who seemed a little more surely.
Eastwood plays “William Munny”, a pig rancher with 2 children remaining from a wife who passed away. Munny has an extremely checkered past having been an outlaw, murderer, fornicator, cruel to animals the whole 9 yards. But he explains to one of his children (and the audience) that his wife “cured me of wickedness” and “showed me the error of my ways”. Sounds amazingly Biblical right? Sadly, that’s as close as Clint got; using Bible-speak. We are never shown a Bible, never see Clint or his kids praying, never see if it’s “religion” that cures William Munny.
In fact, it seemed that “grey” was the highest priority in this movie. The plot revolves around a crime done to a prostitute. There are 2 men who go to a cathouse. The younger of the 2 is portrayed as a “nice kid” while the older goes berserk over something fleshly and proceeds to cut the face of a prostitute repeatedly, ruining her “livelihood”.
He is forced by the tough, experienced sheriff, (Gene Hackman) “Little Bill” to pay off the proprietor/pimp. That leaves the women extremely angry and they put together a bounty of $1000 to kill the 2 cowboys.
After 10 years of living “straight” Munny is now struggling financially and can’t turn the offer down.
Besides Eastwood and Hackman, the cast also includes Hollywood favorite Morgan Freeman and a silver-haired Richard Harris. All put in their usual as far as acting is concerned.
There is a decent level of historical referencing when one of the characters—a boy who first talks Munny into going after the bounty—makes a big deal over his Schofield revolver. Of course anything that isn’t a Colt Peacemaker is novel in a western but Clint still didn’t come close to the likes of Quigley Down Under that showed both the famed Sharps buffalo rifle as well as a single-shot black powder percussion cap pistol! Percussion cap pistols seem to be too much trouble for Hollywood, even though they were used all through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Of particular annoyance to me has been the scene in Eastwood’s Pale Rider (another movie with very veiled references to religion without being open) where he loads a handgun with a ball-tamper but it has a cylinder with cartridges—doubtless some kind of conversion.
There seems to be a focus on the “realities” of gunplay which is a departure from the outrageous 1-shot accuracies of Clint’s spaghetti westerns. At one point, “Little Bill” Hackman gives a long dialogue about the importance of willpower over accuracy in a gunfight…the only problem is John Wayne beat him to it by about 16 years with The Shootist (1976).
It’s not always being fast or even accurate that counts, it’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger—I won’t.
Reminiscent of the spaghetti western For A Few Dollars More, Eastwood’s character gets beat up by “Little Bill” and must be nursed back to health. At that point, he sees the prostitute with a scarred face and seems galvanized to action.
What pushes him over the edge is finding out that his dear friend (Morgan Freeman) has been killed and set out as a spectacle. This moves Munny to ride into town and give a massive bloodletting to all who need it. It is a violent climax but the movie sets it up to be a somewhat righteous one.
For the maturity, the novelty and the acting, I give this movie a solid “6”. Certainly not what I consider an “award-winner” but in comparison to typical Hollywood well worth a rental (yet not quite worth purchasing).