Gene Hackman

U is for Unforgiven (1992)

Retired gunslinger William Munny (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes on one last job, avenge a woman who had been attacked by a couple of cowboys, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and a young man, The “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett).

Unforgiven is one of those films that’s always recommended when someone’s interested in exploring more of the Western genre. Because of that, I was expecting to really like it but unfortunately, I did not. On the whole, I enjoy Westerns and even did a module on them at university, but I really struggled with Unforgiven and found it more boring than anything else.

Unforgiven is just really slow going. The majority of the film is just highlighting how old William and, to a lesser extent, Ned have gotten. They used to be the best of the best, cold stone killers but they have changed, becoming farmers rather than killers. William’s world weariness is balanced out by The Schofield Kid’s enthusiasm. The dynamic between the youngster, keen to leave their mark, and the older gunslingers who have killed and know the toll it can have is good, but really the characters don’t have much of a personality. They are clichés of the genre and many of the characters could’ve been swapped with others from the genre with little to no effect on the plot.

Everything finally kicks off in the final act and a lot of the previous heavy-handed exposition becomes relevant as you see the change William goes through. It’s a final act that works because of what came before it, but unfortunately what came before it was often dull or meaningless. There’s a side plot with Richard Harris as gunfighter English Bob which amounts to nothing and is only there to hammer home how brutal lawman Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is. However, there are other scenes before and after the ones featuring English Bob that show how nasty Bill can be, so is Richard Harris even needed here?

Unforgiven won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1993 and while I haven’t seen the other nominees from that year, I’m still somewhat surprised it won. It looks good, with wide shots of the landscapes and the film quality makes it feels like a much older film than it is, which adds to the charm of a Western as they should feel timeless. However, Unforgiven is an arduous watch. The performances are mostly fine, but there’s attempts at humour that often don’t work, and the story and characters aren’t particularly compelling. Unforgiven just really wasn’t for me. 2/5.

REVIEW: Runaway Jury (2003)

The biggest court case of the century is taking place in New Orleans and it’s against one of the biggest gun manufacturers in the country. But this case can be bought thanks to man on the inside Nicholas Easter (John Cusack) aka Juror Number Nine, and his woman on the outside Marlee (Rachel Weisz). As the case heats up with the defence doing anything to make the juror’s follow their game plan, Nicholas and Marlee, along with the other juror’s, get in increasingly dangerous situations.

Having read and really enjoyed The Runaway Jury by John Grisham earlier this year (my review is here if you’re interested) I thought I’d give the film adaptation a go. And all in all, it’s a fairly decent film though naturally a lot is left out to make adapt the over 500-page novel.

Runaway Jury is a decent courtroom thriller. It follows the standard format for the genre, with twists and turns, some are predictable while others not so, but it never really over does them. It’s the central performances which are the really good and interesting thing about Runaway Jury.

Gene Hackman plays Rankin Fitch, a shady jury consultant who will use any means necessary to get the verdict to go in the favour of the defence, the gun manufactures. Fitch is ruthless and the way Hackman plays him makes him more than the moustache-twirling villain he could’ve been. On the other side of the courtroom is Dustin Hoffman playing prosecuting lawyer Wendall Rohr. Rohr is more affable and charming than Fitch but doesn’t make him any less smart or competent at his job.

There is just one scene Hackman and Hoffman have together and it’s possibly the most intense and electric scene in the whole movie. As they verbally spar over the morality of what each of them is doing to win the case the tension is palpable and it’s one of the few times either character seems to be close to breaking point.

Cusack and Weisz making a dynamic duo as they play cat and mouse with the lawyers and the other jurors. Weisz especially stands out as she holds her own in confrontations between both Hackman and Hoffman.

Runaway Jury is standard courtroom thriller but thanks to the compelling performances of the four central actors it becomes an entertaining film. 3/5.