Unforgiven: A Lesson In Pacing
When Unforgiven was released in 1992, it effectively ended the Western genre. A perfect film containing one of Eastwood's best, nuanced performances that included a dynamite cast and script. Oscar gold, legend status, and clearly a film moviegoers will not soon forget, and there is a lesson buried underneath. Look away from the classic acting and simplistic directing that make the film so timeless, and peer into the pacing. At its best, Unforgiven juggles two separate stories that slowly veer closer and closer until they become one. Eastwood crafted a perfect pace between the two stories, flawless in both its speed and maintaining level of interest.
Unforgiven is classic Western. Big opener, slow middle, big ending. Eastwood's character carries the emotional burden of the film, as we discover his brutal past and why he left it all behind. Gene Hackman's Little Bill Dagget packs the physical punch, pushing the story forward while introducing us to his devilish ways. Several side characters along with supporting actors like Morgan Freeman are tossed in throughout both stories, but Will Munny and Little Bill are the driving forces of the film. When Munny first encounters Dagget, Eastwood sets up the scene masterfully, giving his character an impediment that Dagget exploits. After this sudden yet reserved scene, the writing is on the wall for Dagget. Eastwood doesn't use flashy set pieces or generic cop-outs to push the story forward, but instead slows down to examine Dagget's effect on Munny. When the film cuts between, it always increases the pace. From Munny and his crew's first killing to Dagget's escapades in Big Whiskey with English Bob. Unforgiven even makes a switch to Dagget building his house captivating.
It is impossible to avoid the quicksand pace of Unforgiven, something that some may have distaste for. For the seasoned Western crowd this is nothing new, but Unforgiven certainly takes its sweet time getting to the shootouts. But by the time the credits rolled and Munny faded from frame, I didn't wish the film had picked up speed or sprung for a bigger ending with dynamite and a battle between armies. This is a melancholy, sickly Western filled with existential thoughts on death and the significance of a man, and anything other than careful movement would have muddled that message. As a result, Dagget's death at Munny's hand feels so much sweeter. Then when it's all over, Munny rides out of town unchallenged, damned to live on.