Ned Logan: All right, so what did these fellas do? Cheat at cards? Steal some strays? Spit on a rich fella? What?
Will Munny: No, they cut up a woman.
F: No I don’t think so.
R: Sort of half-watched it on TV once without paying it much attention. So not really.
F: Another Western to get our teeth into! For me this falls somewhere between Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch. Clearly not as carefree and humourous as the former but not as violent and mumbly as the latter. It’s still quite serious though but without feeling dull, which is to its credit.
R: Yes, though a good bit closer in tone to The Wild Bunch than Butch Cassidy I’d say. The violence is pretty graphic, we get some close ups of rotting corpses, and the language includes at least one use of the c-bomb. But what it shares with Butch Cassidy is a strong pair of likeable leads. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are both pretty good in this aren’t they?
F: The central pairing is really believable and the performances are great. Although Clint Eastwood is basically playing Clint Eastwood, like he does in most films (not a bad thing!)
R: He is a little like Harrison Ford in that regard…
F: I do think the violence can sometimes go on a bit too long though. Gene Hackman spends most of his time kicking people on the ground, same as his other films on this list so far!
R: Not cutting away from the violence is one of a number of ways the film achieves a realistic feel. Overall I’m thinking this might be the most convincing Western I’ve seen, and that’s one of the biggest things I like about it. But I’m interested to know whether you think there’s a message or moral to the story?
F: It seems to me that apart from Clint, everyone presents a different version of themselves. So English Bob exaggerates his past adventures (and his accent! I liked the little touch when his accent changed from upper class Englishman to full on cockney), the Schofield kid lies about the number of people he’s killed etc, all to promote an image rather than be who they really are. Will Munny on the other hand fully acknowledges his past but he too is perhaps trying to pretend to be something he’s not?
R: It’s true I think that Eastwood’s character Will Munny is the only one who seems to be completely honest about what he is and what he’s done in the past. And it certainly feels like all the people who are dishonest get some sort of comeuppance by the end of the film. Is it as simple as that? I’ve certainly heard it suggested that Clint Eastwood (who’s also the director here) has a fairly black and white sense of morality.
F: Oh I don’t think that’s fair. What about the women who hire Eastwood et al to kill the other men? Or Gene Hackman’s character – a sheriff who doesn’t allow weapons in his town but is perhaps the most violent character in the film. What about the title of the film? What do you think it means?
R: [Mild spoilers] The title is about Munny losing the forgiveness of his deceased wife, isn’t it? The moment he abandons his children to chase the bounty, we know that he’s going down a path his wife would not condone. By the time we get to that (superb) final shootout he has totally undone his redemption. When the Sheriff says to Munny “see you in hell” you get the sense that Munny accepts that’s where he’s headed. Those familiar with the Christian faith will of course know that hell is the place God sends people he can’t forgive…
F: Agreed! None of the characters are very forgiving though. What about things you didn’t like? It was perhaps a bit too serious to me. No one’s having a good time of it – even the ‘light relief’ in the biographer is not particularly joyful.
R: I guess, although I’d say it’s another thing that supports the realism. Rather than the typical jaunty, wise-cracking Western, this shows us a Wild West where actions have consequences and people are burdened by their consciences. Yet its not unrelentingly grim. We still get a few moments of levity, often laughing at the expense of the flawed characters.
F: So there’s nothing you don’t like?
R: I might almost say that. But if I had to name something it would probably be that the female characters are maybe slightly underwritten? But that’s probably a criticism of the entire genre.
F: At least they have names in this one!
Is it worthy of the top 100?
R: Yeah, I think it probably deserves to creep in somewhere in the lower reaches.
F: Yeah I’d say so. If nothing else this list is making me appreciate Westerns more.