When Will Munny finally gets drunk enough in Unforgiven to become Clint Eastwood--cold and determined, certain only of his unmitigated desire to punish--oh, not even that: to not forgive (like the title says, you dope) and to walk through curtains of blood on his way home--when he takes that first step, I wondered if it was shame that drove him, that stopped him from repeating those flat declarative sentences about his dead wife's good influence, and to 'fess up that he had gone along just long enough to get his best friend Ned humiliated and killed by the funny sheriff with the terrible carpentry skills and more-terrible loose hold on his cruel heart forcing Ned to betray his own best friend before letting him die.
A nasty little thing in me muttered, "There he is, Dirty Harry at last--and only there because he has a bellyful of whiskey, all those steely Men With No Names nothing more than mad drunks. And Eastwood wants to kill 'em all, but he knows we'll hate him for it, so he just shames Munny and makes him go away." But was it that simple, was the movie a brutal satire of the Hard West without any laughs? (Aside from Saul Rubinek, who seemed to wander in from another picture, make himself at home, and scribble in history's margins snide little limericks about the quick and the dead.) I'm not sure; maybe Unforgiven simply wants Munny to confront, like a character in an imaginary Shakespeare revenge-play, the limits of his own acceptance of the way things are--and the way he's made them. Everybody keeps yelling and muttering about who's got it coming, until Munny finally notes, "We all got it coming"--and maybe even worse: "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." Eastwood suddenly gets old, his face lined and his neck scrawny--and his eyes lit like Capt. Willard's in Apocalypse Now with one small spark that worries that none of us will escape whipping.