It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" takes place at that moment when the old West was becoming new. Professional gunfighters have become such an endangered species that journalists follow them for stories. Men who slept under the stars are now building themselves houses. William Munny, "a known thief and a murderer," supports himself with hog farming. The violent West of legend lives on in the memories of men who are by 1880 joining the middle class. Within a few decades, Wyatt Earp would be hanging around Hollywood studios, offering advice.
Eastwood chose this period for "Unforgiven," I suspect, because it mirrored his own stage in life. He began as a young gunslinger on TV and in the early Sergio Leone films "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More," and he matured in "Coogan's Bluff" and "Two Mules for Sister Sara," under the guidance of Don Siegel, the director he often cited as his mentor. Now Eastwood was in his 60s, and had long been a director himself. Leone had died in 1989 and Siegel in 1991; he dedicated "Unforgiven" to them. If the Western was not dead, it was dying; audiences preferred science fiction and special effects. It was time for an elegy.
The film reflects a passing era even in its visual style. The opening shot is of a house, a tree, and a man at a graveside. The sun is setting, on this man and the era he represents. Many of the film's exteriors are widescreen compositions showing the vastness of the land. The daytime interiors, on the other hand, are always strongly backlit, the bright sun pouring in through windows so that the figures inside are dark and sometimes hard to see. Living indoors in a civilized style has made these people distinct.
William Munny is not much of a hog farmer. At one point he chases a hog, lands face down in the mud, and stays there for a moment, defeated. He has two young children to raise after the death of his beloved Claudia. There is not enough money. A rider named the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) appears with an offer of cash money for bounty hunting. The Kid had heard that Munny was "cold as snow and don't have no weak nerve, nor fear." Munny says, "I ain't like that anymore, Kid. It was whiskey done it as much as anythin' else. I ain't had a drop in over 10 years. My wife, she cured me of that, cured me of drink and wickedness."