“Unforgiven” Review: Clint Eastwood attacks the violent heart of American mythology

unforgiven clint eastwood daniel dewar filmaday

A terribly sad repositioning of the American West mythology and a clear-headed meditation on the unspeakable violence, racist and misogynist culture that sat at the heart of the American frontier.

Eastwood has become a politically polarizing figure and his films are co-opted or rejected through politically narrow readings.

While playing hyper-masculine, hyper-violent characters, Eastwood has also chipped away—in front of the camera and behind—at the empty symbols and rhetoric those characters represent.

“Escape From Alcatraz” (1979) was a critique of America’s prison system, “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986) and “In The Line of Fire” (1993) challenged America’s military-industrial complex, and his recent trio of films—”American Sniper” (2014), “Sully” (2016), “The 15:17 to Paris” (2017)—examine American heroism and its relationship—or lack of—to patriotic values.

“American Sniper” was poorly read by most of the country. Conservatives and progressives saw it as a reinforcement of conservative values and failed to recognize the challenge to those values that it really was.

The end of the film is pure Kyle fantasy. It is no accident that his body being paraded through the streets mirrored an earlier scene of an Iraqi insurgent being carried through the streets. Both were given a hero’s farewell and Eastwood is asking what, if any, is the difference between America’s fanaticism and those of its enemies.