The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Wild Bunch, is my all-time favourite western, Eastwood’s multi-Oscar winning film (Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman).
An ageing gunfighter, William Munny (Eastwood) wants to tend to his tiny parcel of land and his children when his past, comes to haunt him with one last job.
After an assault on a whore in the town of Big Whiskey, rumours begin of a large reward and of the damage done to the woman, which catch the attention of a few guns. Munny, decides to set out one last job, leaving his children to mind themselves.
He partners up with the young Scofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), and his old partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and rides into a last confrontation that reveals you can’t escape your past.
The film also examines the blurring of the line between myth and actuality, the glorification of violence as heroic, as well as the results of that violence. This theme plays throughout the film but no more so than through the story arc of English Bob (Richard Harris) – an exceptional gunman, he comes into town accompanied by W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) who is chronicling the man’s story. His confrontation with Little Bill (Hackman), however, shows the reality (or different perspective at least) of the world.
Eastwood takes his time in the telling of Munny’s story, letting his characters grow and reveal themselves onscreen. The idea of the ageing gunman as a parable for the Old West has been visited before, but never so strongly based in the reality of the times.
As the story unfolds, Munny grows ill, but he, Ned and the Kid try to carry on with the mission, until it comes down on Munny to finish everything off, no longer after coin, but now driven by revenge.
Eastwood’s casting of the film help make for one of the most iconic westerns ever – his years of working with Sergio Leone on spaghetti westerns paid off endlessly in this film. The location work, the moments, and the story revitalised the western, yet again, updating it, imbuing with more grittiness, edge and a level of reality that had not been seen on screen before.
Gone are the days of the white and black hats, the line between hero and villain is blurred, stereotypes are left behind, and we are introduced to the grey shadings of real human beings caught up in events.
I love this film, and every time I see it, I’m completely taken in by the masterful way it was made. Eastwood has directed and starred in a fantastic number of films both before and after, but I honestly believe this will be seen as his crowning achievement.