There is much I could write about this film. It is a revisionist Western. As such, one of its major themes is the cost that violence and revenge take upon one’s soul.
The story, in a nutshell, is about an aged gunslinger-turned-pig farmer named William Munny (played by Clint Eastwood) who’s pressed back into his old calling by a young man calling himself the Schofield Kid (played by Jaimz Woolvett) who seeks a $1,000 bounty a group of prostitutes have pledged to anyone who kills the men who disfigured one of their own. They do this after the local sheriff, “Little” Bill Daggett (played by Gene Hackman) offers them horses as consolation prize for the offending men’s actions.
Munny initially refuses, but he does desperately need the dough, because his farm is … not doing so well. His life is a far cry from that of the Man with No Name. Munny has a family to think of
and a promise to his dead wife to break. So, he ends up asking another retired gunfighter to join him and the Kid. This would be Ned Logan (played by the awesome Morgan Freeman).
And that’s the setup. As for the execution … well …
First, it turns out that killing people is a lot harder then the Kid expected. This is made plain in one scene in particular, where one of the bad guys is shot and lays dying not-so-quietly. This is really messes with the Kid’s head.
He ends up holstering his gun and heading home, while the getting’s good.
As for Ned Logan, he tries to quit while he’s (kinda) ahead. And the less said about his fate, the better. (Minor spoiler: it ain’t pretty.)
There is also a subplot in which yet another gunfighter named “English Bob” (played by the talented Richard Harris–the whole film is rife with acting talent) arrives in town and regales a biographer (played by Saul Rubinek) with impressive (and tall) tales of his amazing exploits, which the writer eats up with a spoon.
After “Little” Bill dispenses with “English Bob”, the biographer looks to Bill, who provides the real lowdown about the Wild West—a somewhat less than romantic version.
Altogether, the movie not only tells the riveting story of a struggling ex-gunfighter trying to do right by injured parties, his family, and (later) his friend, but does so while starkly portraying the violent means by which Munny seeks justice. Or is it revenge?
One senses that Munny may enjoy this one last gig with a gun, mainly because the years of killing that preceded it have left an indelible mark. But the epilogue makes it clear that it really is his last rodeo.
When it comes to unpacking the themes in this film, where does one start? The story debunks the romanticism of older Westerns (Eastwood’s early ones included). It also touches on the thin line between murder and defense of others, as well as justice and revenge. The story mixes all the lies the characters tell themselves into the story and wraps it up in a morally murky package.
However, even if Munny backslid into his old evil ways, he did so for what he would say was noble enough causes to wipe any stain from his character. Assuming anyone in this film could be considered noble.
I highly recommend the film. Especially if you like Westerns
for thinking people.
PS: Epsilon Reviews did an absolutely bang-up job dissecting this one! Click that link! Really! 🙂