THEN: Seen as something of a resurgence for the serious western, Unforgiven tells the tale of two retired gunslingers (Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman), who are approached by a short-sighted young hopeful, after a local whorehouse puts up a bounty for two brutal cowboys. Meanwhile, hard-nosed sheriff Gene Hackman rules the town with an iron first - and runs any bounty hunters out of town.
David Webb Peoples' excellent script re-wrote the heroism, bravery and gentlemanly behaviors of the old west into a bloody, misfiring, mauling - and cast Eastwood perfectly as a bastion of days gone by. The film was something of a return to form for Eastwood, as both and actor and a director - and the Academy duly noted him for both. He moved up a notch in directing terms after this and hasn't really looked back.
NOW: Still unbelievably powerful, if anything, Unforgiven has improved with age, sitting comfortably with the films that it was made in honour of, at the western's throne. Eastwood handles the action and the direction like a master carpenter - showing a magnificent storytelling skill inherited from the likes of Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. There's no flashy camera work, just a restrained observation that never interferes with the story and serves it perfectly.
Eastwood's central performance as William Munny is so reserved and withdrawn, it's surprising you can feel anything for him at all. Few actors can remain silent in a scene while everyone talks around them - and still steal the show, but Eastwood does it, drawing heavily on much of his prior screen history to silently fill out Munny's back story. Morgan Freeman comes a close second of course and the pair of them have a great chemistry, which would be repeated masterfully in Million Dollar Baby. Brutal, engaging, vengeful and brilliant.