Unforgiven ★★★★★

I can't imagine I'll have much of anything new to add to this film that has been examined and re-examined and turned inside out by critics for the last three decades. It does strike me as a profoundly American film* in a certain sense, a movie about the tension at the heart of America's self-conception as a land of just violence.

The first 115 minutes or so are about the ugly harshness of violence, the way killing is rarely as quick or clean or easy as it looks in the movies of the sort popularized by Clint Eastwood himself over the preceding 25 years. And then in the last 15 minutes the film is resolved, spectacularly and with great catharsis, by ... quick, clean, easy violence, violence that ends with a speech promising more violence if further wrongs are committed, a speech delivered under the banner of an American flag.

Literally! Munny's final lines are "You better bury Ned right! You better not cut up nor otherwise harm no whores. [Eastwood cuts to a low-angled shot of Munny with the American flag over his left shoulder.] Or I'll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches. [Thunder, as if God is punctuating this statement of preemptory righteous vengeance.]" These are the last lines of dialogue in the film.**

I remember reading an interview with a filmmaker (or possibly a critic?) in which he said something to the effect of "no director has ever accidentally placed an American flag in a shot. If it's there, it's serving a purpose." (I will pay a dollar to anyone who finds this quote I definitely read and did not make up in my mind.) And concluding this movie about the complexities of violence with the righteousness of violence under the aegis of the American flag set during the week of Independence Day has always struck me as an ... interesting choice.

I'll leave it at that.

*And not just because of Little Bill's line to English Bob, “You've been talking about the queen again? On Independence Day?”

**There is a closing crawl that suggests Munny moved to San Francisco; my head canon has always held this is a secret hint that William Munny is actually Harry Callahan's great-grandfather.

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