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Film / Unforgiven

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"It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he's got... and all he's ever gonna have."
Will Munny

A Western from 1992, written by David Webb Peoples, produced, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

In the town of Big Whiskey, normal people are trying to lead quiet lives. Cowboys are trying to make a living. Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) is trying to build a house and keep a heavy-handed order. The girls of the town's brothel are just trying to get by. But when one of a pair of cowboys cuts up one of the brothel's girls, who goes by the name of Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Levine), the prostitutes are not satisfied with Little Bill's justice and put out a $1,000 bountynote  on the heads of both cowboys, Quick Mike and Davey Bunting.

William Munny (Eastwood) is a Retired Gunfighter. Formerly a notorious cold-blooded killer, Munny was seemingly reformed by his late wife Claudia, who convinced him to give up his murderous ways and settle down as an honest farmer, living peacefully with their two children. However, farming is hard and his family are in financial difficulties, so Munny is drawn back into a life of killing when Gunfighter Wannabe the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) offers to split the reward on the bounty. Together with his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), Munny and the Kid set off on one last job, and in the process run afoul of Little Bill. In the ensuing hostilities, the ruthless demon that laid dormant within Munny is unleashed with a vengeance.

The film has gone on to be considered one of the greatest westerns ever made. It won four Academy Awards (and was nominated for five others), garnering Best Picture and Best Director for Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman and Best Film Editing for editor Joel Cox.

It was also a huge box office success, spending its first three weeks as the #1 film in the United States, and earning a total of $159.2 million worldwide, against a budget of $14.4 million.

A Japanese remake starring Ken Watanabe was made in 2013.

Not to be confused with the older western film The Unforgiven, which tells another story entirely.

Provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • When Will notes that Ned is still using a Spencer rifle, it would imply that Ned carried it in the Civil War as a member of a U.S. Colored Troops cavalry regiment. Morgan Freeman also starred in Glory as a member of a U.S. Colored regiment.
    • The earlier scene when Clint Eastwood practices firing guns is reminiscent of him firing guns before the credits of The Outlaw Josey Wales.
    • Will, beaten and bloody, crawling out of the saloon and across the boardwalk outside, is highly reminiscent of a scene from A Fistful of Dollars.
  • Admiring the Abomination: Beauchamp's face is positively ecstatic when Will enters the bar and admits that he's killed women and children.
  • Advertised Extra: English Bob is memorable, but not as big a character as being featured in the poster would imply.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Claudia Munny was 29 years old when she died, 3 years before the events of the movie, while Munny himself looks old enough to be the father of a woman that agenote .
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: Will shoots Davey Bunting in the stomach and he dies slowly and painfully.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Although the prostitutes treat Davey as equally responsible for Mike's mutilation of Delilah's face, when Delilah hears of Davey's fatal shooting at the hands of Munny, she takes a remorseful and sympathetic tone.
  • The Alleged House: Sheriff Bill Dagget built his own wood-frame house on a lonely parcel away from town. While recounting the exploits of The Wild West to biographer W.W. Beauchamp, both men set out assorted vessels to catch all the rainwater that's leaking through the roof. One of the sheriff's own deputies put it succinctly; "You know, he don't have a straight angle in that whole god-damned porch, or the whole house for that matter. He is the worst damn carpenter."
  • All There in the Script: The screenplay reveals what happened to The Schofield Kid — he drowned himself out of guilt.
  • Animals Hate Him: When he cannot mount his own horse, William Munny claims that his horse is taking revenge on him because he was mean with all the animals in his past. See Badass Boast to know how much Munny had mistreated and killed animals.
    • Broken-down pig farmer Munny can't even manage his own sickly livestock, who probably resist his attempts to wrangle them out of spite as much as illness.
  • Arc Words: "I ain't like that no more."
    • "I guess they got (had) it coming"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Invoked by Ned Logan when he tries to guess what provoked the placing of a deathmark on the heads of the cowboys:
    "So what did these fellas do? Cheat at cards? Steal some strays? Spit on a rich fella? What?"
  • Artistic Licence – Law: Everyone refers to the $1,000 that the girls are offering for the killing of two men as a "bounty". However, a private citizen cannot legally offer a reward for the extrajudicial killing of a person, meaning that the girls are inciting murder of specific persons, which is a crime. Given the reaction of Sheriff Little Bill for the whole rest of the movie, it can be inferred that the only reason the girls themselves weren't arrested was that the sheriff only knew of the "bounty" through multiple levels of hearsay. This is why Bill and his deputies refer to Munny, Ned and the Kid as "assassins" throughout the film — because that's what they are, not bounty hunters.
  • Badass Boast:
  • Band of Brothels: When one of theirs is maimed by a bad john, the working girls pool their resources and put a bounty on the wrongdoers' heads, kicking off the action.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted with Delilah, whose injuries kick off the plot. While she's isn't exactly disfigured, and arguably still pretty good-looking, she has permanent scarring on her face.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Since it's not necessarily obvious: The Schofield Kid has this one pretty bad right before the final showdown Where It All Began.
  • Being Good Sucks: Kind of. It's noticeable that during his period of trying to be good, Munny is an unsuccessful pig farmer eking out a wretched existence, is wracked by guilt, and comes across as kind of pathetic (note how often he falls off his horse, and his beating by Little Bill). After returning to his old ways, he becomes a scarily effective gunfighter and the epilogue indicates he became financially successful. Not to mention that things don't turn out well for Ned after he admits he's lost his stomach for killing and tries to return home.
  • Bigger Stick: In the final fight at the saloon, Will Munny uses the Schofield revolver that used to belong to the Schofield kid. Now, this is certainly not the only reason of his victory; but the fact remains that, as per the trope, Munny had better equipment than any of his foes and Munny handily defeated everybody in the large posse of about sixteen people, either killing them or scaring them into running away.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Munny goes back to his old ways and Ned is murdered, but Munny avenges him. And with the money he earns from the bounty on the two cowboys, he's able to move on and make a better life for himself and his kids — rumored to be San Francisco, where he prospered in dry goods.
    Closing narration: ... And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Ned is beaten to death by Little Bill, even though he wasn't the one who fired the fatal shot at cowboy Davey.
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: The Schofield Kid provides a rare male example after killing Quick Mike.
  • Blunt "Yes": During the final shootout.
    Little Bill: I'll See You in Hell, William Munny.
    Munny: Yeah. (shoots him)
  • Bond One-Liner: William Munny blows a guy away and then utters one of the best of these in a Western ever:
    "Little Bill" Daggett: Well, sir, you are a cowardly son of a bitch! You just shot an unarmed man!
    William Munny: Well he should've armed himself, if he's gonna decorate his saloon with my friend.
  • Book Ends: The movie starts and ends with silhouette shots at sunset showing Munny working at his homestead.
  • Boom, Headshot!:How William Munny kills Little Bill. Shotgun blast to the face. Point blank.
  • Boring, but Practical: Will's gunfighting style is revealed to merely make himself a smaller target and carefully take his time with his shots while everyone else is moving and firing off as fast they can, with being drunk helping him stay calm. This even gets mentioned earlier by Little Bill as the best way to gunfight.
  • Bounty Hunter: Will Munny, Ned Logan, and The Schofield Kid.
  • Break the Haughty:
  • Call to Agriculture: As with everything else, Deconstructed. William Munny, the legendary outlaw gave up his violent ways to become a peaceful pig farmer… and by the time the movie starts he is failing miserably, his stock is severely depleted and he is forced to take up the Schofield Kid on his offer so he doesn't lose everything. The film emphasizes this at the end when it tells the audience that it was agriculture in particular and not honest work in general that he was ill-suited for, since Munny eventually became successful as a shopkeeper in San Francisco.
  • Campfire Character Exploration: Multiple times the heroes share intimate stories by a campfire.
  • The Can Kicked Him: The Schofield Kid kills one of the marked men while he's sitting in an outhouse.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: Little Bill explains to Beauchamp, at length, about how proper aim trumps speed in a real gunfight. Illustrated bloodily during the movie's climactic gunfight: Munny systematically guns down the men surrounding him while standing still with no cover except merely crouching a little in a cramped bar. The deputies are so freaked out by his ruthless execution of the owner and Bill that they all miss him. Though Munny says that it has as much to do with pure luck as anything else.
  • Chinese Laborer: Apparently, English Bob earned a living killing them for the railroads.
  • Crapsack World: The Wild West is shown to be a world where cruelty, misogyny, violence, and racism are all accepted as normal, and kindness, honour, and the law mean hardly anything; the only reliable protection you can garner is having such a dreadful reputation that nobody in their right mind would want to cross you.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Little Bill delivers a brutal one-sided beating to both English Bob and William Munny at two different points in the movie
    • Despite being outnumbered, William Munny is able to easily outgun and kill Little Bill and his men; if only because of his experience and knowing better than anyone in the bar the business of gunfighting.
  • Darker and Edgier: Of the Western. Even compared to the Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western films.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Done with Ned. Munny is angry and ready to kill by this point, but seeing Ned's body out in the open like that visibly enrages him further. Truth in Television — towns often put the unidentified dead out on display as well, in hopes that someone would identify them/claim the bodies.
  • Death Is Such an Odd Thing: The Schofield Kid feels that way after his first kill.
    It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Of Westerns. A wide variety of tropes, archetypes, and the general formula are all decontructed.
    • Munny himself is a Deconstructed Character Archetype of the Man With No Name and his expies, both of which are the kinds of characters Clint Eastwood played in the 60s and 70s. The Man With No Name was a cool, unstoppable Anti-Hero whose lethal skills let him gun down dozens of bad guys. William Munny is a Retired Monster who was a cruel, unhinged, and cold-blooded killer who killed whoever was in his way regardless of who they were with his lethal skills.
    • One aspect of this is how the movie shows Munny dealing with his re-submersion into the violent, dangerous environment he left behind before he became a family man. He doesn't become a more heroic figure, rising to the occasion. Instead, he degrades, with his layers of civility being stripped away until at the end, he's the cold-blooded killer that he once was.
    • Eastwood’s trademark squint was subject to this too: the Schofield Kid is almost constantly squinting, but it’s just because of his poor eyesight and doesn’t look badass in the least.
    • The final showdown deconstructs Conservation of Ninjutsu. Will kills almost all Little Bill's deputies because they are not experienced in actual gunfighting like Will is and none of them have a killer instinct despite their numbers. He mostly prevails because he quickly, accurately, and unhesitatingly shoots while his foes are indecisive and panicking.
    • Honor Before Reason is also deconstructed. Consider the title. The prostitutes can't forgive Quick Mike for cutting Delilah. Little Bill can't forgive the prostitutes for putting a hit on the cowboys. The Schofield Kid can't forgive himself for actually killing a man, and finally Will Munny can't forgive Little Bill for killing Ned. As a result, most of these characters are either dead, dying, or emotionally broken at the end of the movie.
    • The roles of the good guys and bad guys in the classic Westerns are deliberately reversed. Will Munny is a violent (former) criminal who rides into town and stirs up trouble, while Little Bill is the Sheriff trying to maintain order by throwing out the criminals, and rounds up a posse to go after them. Note that Will Munny's entrance just before the final shootout is almost a perfect Western villain entrance, complete with Munny standing eerily in the shadows and being dressed in all dark clothing. During the final shootout, William guns down an unarmed man, while Little Bill shows extraordinary bravery in his final moments. Ultimately and deliberately, neither of them comes out looking all that great.
    • More than perhaps any deconstruction in this film in contrast to most Clint Eastwood westerns (or any western) where the lead will casually gun down a group of people like it is nothing, this movie makes a point about how there is nothing glamorous about killing a person even if you think it is for heroic reasons. Will Munny is plagued by the guilt over all the people he has killed and the Schofield Kid has a breakdown after he finally kills one of the bounty targets.
    • When Munny finally goes after Little Bill, they don't have a Showdown at High Noon; instead, Munny fights Bill on a rainy night. This allows Munny to leave Big Whiskey without much trouble since the water and darkness obscure sightlines and discourage the townspeople from chasing and attacking Munny in retaliation.
    • Little Bill himself calmly deconstructs the idea of The Gunslinger while talking with Beauchamp. Yes, there really were dangerous men who made a living killing people. But there was nothing heroic or brave about any of them, and many of the stories Beauchamp has heard are often exaggerated by the very people they are about in order to hide that they won gunfights through less admirable methods. He also explains how being quick to draw your gun means nothing unless you can keep a cool head, which is shown in the ending where many characters end up missing Munny simply because they panicked and didn't bother to aim.
      • Little Bill himself can be seen as a deconstruction of the town sheriff in your typical Western movie. Like most sheriffs in this type of film, he is just trying to keep the peace. The problem is that when Delilah gets her face slashed up, Bill does not punish the men after Delilah is attacked (granted one of them had nothing to do with it and even tried to stop the other) and lets them go scot-free. He is also later shown to be a vicious tyrant and bully who delivers violent beatdowns to others - who are already at gunpoint or restrained - and is no better than the criminals he claims to protect the town from.
    • The Fastest Gun in the West as a trope is repeatedly deconstructed; Little Bill speaks at length about how trying to draw that fast is likely to throw off your aim, and in the climax Little Bill does manage to draw faster than Munny, but misses the only shot he can get off before Munny shoots him. Meanwhile Bill's deputies all panic, drawing and firing as quickly as they can, and hit absolutely nothing.
    • The Instant Death Bullet is averted on multiple occasions, and characters are depicted as suffering in terrible pain as a result of being shot. Instant death bullets and (often) Bloodless Carnage do a lot of work to keep the tone of Westerns relatively light, without them things quickly become much darker and more horrific.
  • Defiant to the End:
    • Non-fatal example with English Bob. For all his cowardice and exaggeration of his deeds, he gives a spectacular, furious speech against the people of Big Whiskey as they're running him out of town. Given what we've seen of Big Whiskey, even though Bob is little better, it kind of comes off as Jerkass Has a Point.
      English Bob: A plague on you! A plague on the whole stinking lot of ya, without morals or laws. And all you whores got no laws. You got no honor. It's no wonder you all emigrated to America, because they wouldn't have you in England! You're a lot of savages, that's what you all are. A bunch of bloody savages! A plague on you!
    • The Schofield Kid invokes this by claiming Quick Mike reached for his gun before his death, but Mike's gunbelt was hanging on the inside of the outhouse door when the Kid opened it, and was therefore well out of his reach when the Kid shot him. In fact, Quick Mike died holding up empty hands and begging for his life.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A major part of the film's goal of de-romanticizing the West: racism (whether against Englishmen, "Chinamen" or "injuns") is rampant, prostitutes are seen as the scum of the earth (Skinny refers to the cut-up prostitute as "damaged property"), and an exchange of goods is seen as acceptable punishment for slicing them up. Unfortunately, all of this period-appropriate realism makes the fact that Ned's skin color is not even remarked upon, never mind serving as a plot point, extremely jarring. This was heavily criticized by the film's detractors (Ned was presumably not written with Morgan Freeman in mind).
  • Dime Novel: W.W. Beauchamp writes these. One example is "The Duke of Death", about English Bob. Little Bill insists on calling it "The Duck of Death".
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Just about everyone is guilty of this:
    • The entire movie is a result of Quick Mike cutting up Delilah's face for laughing at his small penis.
    • In retaliation for this (and Little Bill's feeble punishment), Strawberry Alice and the other whores put a $1,000 bounty not only on Mike but his pal Davey, who didn't do anything to Delilah and even tried to give her a pony as an apology. Davey ends up being killed by the protagonists with a slow gutshot. After they break his leg by shooting his horse out from under him.
    • Little Bill beats the crap out of a defenseless English Bob, then does the same to Munny. He says in each case that he's making an example of them to deter other would-be assassins, but he seems to enjoy beating unarmed old men just a little too much. When he's alone with Beauchamp and English Bob he forces a confrontation in which he almost certainly would have killed Bob and possibly Beauchamp too, while allowing him to claim self-defense during an escape attempt. English Bob prudently does not take the offered gun. He also whips Ned to death while trying to get information about his partners out of him.
    • Ned comes along primarily because he's Munny's friend, but when it comes to it he finds that he can't actually shoot anyone anymore and he decides to go home instead. Little Bill's men catch him and Bill whips him to death.
    • According to Little Bill, English Bob killed Two-Gun Corcoran purely for sleeping with a woman he also had his eye on.
    • Munny murders Skinny the unarmed saloon owner for displaying Ned's corpse. As he leaves the saloon having killed five men, he warns:
      Munny: Any man I see out there, I'm gonna kill him. Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife and all his friends, and burn his damn house down!
    • In fact, Munny spent most of his career doing this. He recounts to Ned that he once murdered a drover by shooting him in the face, but upon sobering up he reflected that his victim had done nothing to deserve that. He further recalls that most of the men he had rode with at the time both hated and feared him, worrying that Will would kill them out of "pure meanness".
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Unforgiven" can conceivably refer to a few characters in the story. It can refer to Munny, who is a Retired Monster who can never feasibly be forgiven for his past crimes. Or Little Bill, who brutally kills Ned and invokes the wrath of Will, who is willing to revert back to his old ways to settle the score, even if it means dishonoring his late wife's memory. Or maybe the Schofield Kid, who can't forgive himself when he kills Mike and leaves the story emotionally broken and vowing to never pick up a gun again. And it most certainly applies to the cowboys, Quick Mike and Davey, who the whores refuse to forgive for cutting up one of their own. It bites especially hard in Davey's case, whose only fault was being Quick Mike's friend and being with him the night of his rampage. Davey even tries to make amends to Delilah, but her friends drive him away.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: After Delilah nurses Munny back to health, she asks him outright if he wants a "free one". He turns her down on account of his late wife.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Drawn guns are only cocked when the tension is at its highest.
  • Dramatic Thunder: On Will's appearance in the bar, and after his ultimatum to the entire town of Big Whiskey.
  • Dying Truce: William Munny shoots and mortally wounds the cowboy Davey Bunting. Davey becomes thirsty and begs one of his friends to bring him water. His friends are reluctant to do so due to fear of being shot themselves. Munny calls out to them to give Davey some water and promises not to shoot them. One of them believes him and goes to Davey with a canteen.
  • Enemy Chatter: Little Bill's deputies get screen time talking about random stuff, showing they are a bunch of regular guys just doing their jobs.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • (In this case, Even Anti-Heroes Have Standards). After killing the men at the saloon, when writer W.W. Beauchamp asks him who he chose first (in an effort to romanticize the brutal events that Munny committed), Munny replies only by threatening him with death. All the players in the movie were eager to justify their Disproportionate Retribution, except for Munny: he knows that he did evil things once and he’s doing evil things now, and for that he will go to hell. He will not try to hide that from himself or anyone else.
    • Even when he cold-bloodedly murdered an unarmed Skinny for displaying Ned's corpse outside his saloon and when he was about to shoot Little Bill, both times Munny warned the people standing near his target to move away for their own safety because he's using a shotgun, showing a remarkable concern for the welfare of people he doesn't have any specific intention of killing (and a surprising effort to avert Reckless Gun Usage).
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Little Bill gives Munny a chance to disarm and stay in town peacefully, even giving him the excuse that maybe he didn't see the sign at the edge of town in the dark and the rain. But when Munny lies to him by saying he's not carrying a gun...
    • Little Bill's deputies are visibly uneased to see how severely Little Bill is beating William Munny in the bar, despite the fact Munny is now unarmed and is clearly so ill that he can't be much of a danger to anyone.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Little Bill, staring down Will Munny's gun. Subverted all to hell with every other death. Nobody else in the film dies as cleanly or quickly.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: This film deconstructs the hell out of this. Sheriff "Little Bill" Daggett recounts no less than two instances where merely being able to unholster and draw your pistol in a gunfight faster than the other guy doesn't guarantee you'll win; on the contrary, you're more likely to either miss your opponent, or worse, shoot yourself in the leg or foot, and that's if the gun doesn't jam or blow up in your hand.
    • Played With in Little Bill's admission that there's always a chance that a man who draws and fires too fast might not miss, which means "he'll kill you."
    • Fulfilled in the final gunfight: When Little Bill and all the deputies yank out their guns and blaze away at Will without hitting anything, he calmly aims and fires, and each shot is a hit.
      • In particular, "Fatty"'s gun handling in the final shootout strays into Black Comedy: he is so rattled that he desperately "fans" his pistol's hammer with his free hand, trying to fire faster, but only manages to ratchet his hammer 2-3 times for each actual trigger pull (which probably results in dropping his hammer on an empty chamber), and finally fires his last shot into the ceiling as he turns to flee.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The movie poster shows the heads of the major characters stacked up in a column.
  • Forced to Watch: Bill makes two of the prostitutes witness him torture Ned to death, just to scare them over their decision to put a hit out on the cowboys.
  • Gag Penis: As Little Bill tells Beauchamp, English Bob once killed a man who was nicknamed "Two-Gun Corcoran." Although Beauchamp was under the impression it was because Corcoran carried two guns, Little Bill explains in detail how he got the name, even though he in fact carried only one gun.
  • Genre Deconstruction: This whole movie is a more realistic portrayal of what life is like in the Old West. From how quick drawing in a fight would actually be a disadvantage to how stories are altered and/or exaggerated to make someone look more heroic.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Averted. Delilah, who's as "good" as anybody is in this movie, has some really nasty-looking facial scars, even though her beauty is still there if you look past them.
  • Gossip Evolution: When the Schofield Kid tells Munny about the attack, he says that the cowboys had cut out Delilah's eyes and cut off her ears, neither of which was true. When Munny tells Ned about it, he adds that they cut off her fingers and her breasts. It is implied that these Chinese whispers intended to make other people sound better or worse than reality is how these old Western legends begin to form.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: None of the main characters are truly heroic or villainous. The closest you get to morally white in the story is the late Claudia Munny, whose memory acts as William's Morality Chain throughout the story and this chain slips in the end with the Big Whiskey saloon massacre.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Subverted. Munny attempts it, fails, and he gets his ass kicked for trying.
  • Gun Porn: Most westerns depict everyone carrying a Winchester rifle, a Colt Peacemaker, or a double-barreled shotgun (largely due to the use of the five-in-one blank round in movie production). Unforgiven features a very wide selection of old-west firearms, and several are identified by name.
  • The Gunslinger: If they're not a whore, they're a gunslinger. Or a writer ("What, letters and such?").
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Delilah seems to emphasize the "heart of gold" aspect, being portrayed as the sweetest and most innocent of the working girls. Deconstructed with Strawberry Alice, the caring big sister of the group. While she does look after Delilah when she's hurt, she's also eager for revenge, she angrily refuses Davey's attempt at an apology, and she shows no remorse when she finally gets her revenge.
  • Hourglass Plot: The Schofield Kid starts off as a novice bounty hunter looking for his first kill whereas Munny is a Retired Gunfighter who has developed an aversion to taking lives. By the time Ned is dead, the Schofield Kid is the one regretting his only kill whereas Munny has fully returned to his old habits and is out for blood.
  • How Did You Know? I Didn't: One scene is a subversion of Eastwood's film The Outlaw Josey Wales, where Wales survives a shootout with an armed posse and then explains how he did a Sherlock Scan of his enemies to figure out which one he had to shoot first. After Munny survives a similar encounter and is asked how he did it, he just shrugs and says he's always been lucky when it comes to killin' folks.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Once a feared gunslinger, William Munny is now a rheumatic old pig farmer who can barely get on his horse and can't even shoot straight anymore...
  • Humanoid Abomination: Although William Munny is (probably) human, it's implied several times there is something quite wrong about him.
    Beauchamp: Who, uh, who'd you kill first? When confronted by superior numbers, an experienced gunfighter will always fire on the best shot first.
    Munny: Is that so?
    Beauchamp: Yeah, Little Bill told me that and you probably killed him first?
    Munny: (Beat) I was lucky in the order. But I've always been lucky when it comes to killin' folks.
    Beauchamp: Who was next? It must've been Clyde, right? Well, could have been Deputy Anderson, or erm-!
    Munny: [points his rifle in Beauchamp's face] All I can tell you is who's going to be last.
    [Cue Thunderous Underline, Beauchamp realizes he's outstayed his welcome and quickly leaves]
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: As Will insists to Ned, "I'm just a fella now. I ain't any different from anyone else no more."
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
    • Discussed, and ultimately Deconstructed. The deputies in the final showdown panic, blaze away at Munny, and hit exactly zip. Munny, on the other hand, keeps a cool head and rations out a bullet for each one.
    • At the start of the film, Munny is a horrible shot, missing a tin can with all six shots at close range. This leads him to bringing a shotgun along just in case. It's only after he discovers that Ned is dead that he gets his old focus back.
    • Munny also apparently works best while drunk. He drinks a bottle of whisky (his first in the movie) before entering Skinny's for the showdown.
    • This is Truth in Television: Revolvers of the time were notoriously inaccurate, even at close range. So as Little Bill says, accuracy trumps speed, and in fact shooting faster would likely make it less accurate, not more. Plus, Munny admits he's "always been lucky in killin' folks."
  • Inciting Incident: Delilah laughing at Quick Mike's Teeny Weenie set the entire movie in action.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Little Bill's insistence on referring to English Bob as the Duck (of Death) rather than the Duke. Even after being corrected, he replies "duck, I says," suggesting it's an expression of contempt for Bob himself, who's hardly fearsome in his estimation.
    • Little Bill and his deputies repeatedly refer to bounty hunters as "assassins." The tone they use makes it sound like they're using the word as kind of an insult, but in fact it is an entirely valid distinction: offering money for straight-up killing two men is contract killing and the men seeking to collect are hired assassins.
  • It's Personal: Will pretty much drags his feet throughout the whole contract killing, but when he is given a personal reason to kill someone, like when Little Bill kills Ned, he goes back to his old ways, with increased focus and gusto.
  • Karma Houdini: Somewhat downplayed. While Will doesn't get any retribution at the end for his crimes, they were all either implied or justified in some way since he's given a Sympathetic P.O.V. throughout the film. And he knows he's going to pay for it in Hell anyway.
    "We all got it coming, kid."
  • Lame Comeback: Sort of. Instead of a witty one-liner, Munny responds in rather bland fashion, but the effect is, if anything, more intimidating because it's clear Munny no longer cares about anything like regular human communication.
    Little Bill: I'll See You in Hell, William Munny!
  • Love Redeems: Well, almost. Munny did change his ways for his wife, but eventually reverted to his old ways after she died.
  • Make an Example of Them: Bill's beating of English Bob is meant to serve as a warning, but we later find out that the beating has far more to do with personal reasons, and the public warning is just an excuse.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Everyone in Skinny's bar when they see Will Munny walk in.
  • Meta Casting: Eastwood has stated on occasion that he considers this to be something of a direct sequel to his earlier Westerns, showing what happened when the Man With No Name grew old and ran out of bad guys to kill.
  • Mirroring Factions: Part of the point of the movie is that the forces of law and order and the forces of criminality and villainy in the Old West often weren't as different as later mythologizing have made them out to be.
  • Mood Whiplash: There is a humorous scene depicting Quick Mike among his bodyguards, where one jokes about handing Mike over for five cents, eliciting uproarious laughter. Mike himself comments that he's not worried, as he has "protection", and the camera switches to an overweight deputy snoring away. Then the scene immediately changes to a posse with a captive and bound Ned on horseback...
  • Mook Horror Show: Will Munny's entry into the bar, shotgun raised is played out practically like the introduction of an archvillain in a horror movie, complete with Dramatic Thunder.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: According to Little Bill, English Bob took this approach when he found himself in a Love Triangle with Two Guns Corky and a French lady.
  • My Parents Are Dead: When the Schofield Kid pitches his bounty hunt to Munny, he suggests Munny could use the money to buy his wife nice things. The latter cuts the conversation short by mentioning that his wife is dead.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: One trailer has a bystander yell at Munny that he just shot an unarmed man, and Munny replying matter-of-factly, "well, he should have armed himself." That's actually just half the line he speaks in the movie - what he actually says is, "well, he should have armed himself, if he's going to decorate his saloon with my friend."
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, fatally. Will and the Schofield Kid find out where Quick Mike is holed up and sit out behind the outhouse waiting for him to come out to use it. Quick Mike also decides not to bother to bring the deputy assigned to protect him, which proves a fatal mistake.
  • Noodle Incident: Will and Ned often talk about their past exploits and their former gang. Subverted a bit in that Munny was drunk most of the time and doesn't remember all the details either.
  • Not His Blood: After the climactic gunbattle in which William Munny kills Little Bill and most of his deputies, Munny hears moaning coming from a pile of bodies. Mr. Beauchamp (Little Bill's biographer) moves a dead body off of himself, sees a patch of blood on his chest and says "I'm shot! I'm shot!" Munny tells him "You ain't shot", and he's right. The blood came from the dead man lying on top of him.
  • Not Quite Dead: Little Bill Daggett doesn't die immediately when William Munny initially shoots him, and this enables him to nearly get the drop on Munny. But at the last second, Munny notices Bill stirring and stops him from reaching his pistol, then finishes him off for good with a blast to the face.
    • One of the deputies Munny previously shot is still alive, with his groans of pain giving him away. Munny polishes him off, as well.
  • Oblivious Mockery: Beauchamp tells Little Bill jokingly to hang his carpenter for the crappy work he did on the cottage, only for Bill to reveal that it was him who built the place.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: As befits a brothel, we get quite a few shots of the ladies of Greeley's sitting around wearing corsets and even skimpier wear.
  • Off the Wagon: Munny has quit drinking, but he drinks a bottle of whisky before the final showdown.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • English Bob upon seeing Little Bill: "Shit and fried eggs."
    • Everyone in the saloon has a moment when Little Bill is talking about how they're going to catch the "assassins"... and then they hear a gun click behind them, and standing in the doorway is a very pissed looking Munny, holding a shotgun.
    • Munny, very briefly, when he goes to shoot Bill and his shotgun misfires.
    • The Schofield Kid gets one when he hears that he's the only friend Will has.
  • One Last Job: Gone horribly, horribly wrong.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: An in-universe version; English Bob, who normally speaks with a plummy upper-crust accent, slips into Cockney when suddenly confronted by Little Bill and his posse. Apparently he's pretending to be an upper-class gent when he's really from the gutter (he says "I thought you was dead" before correcting himself to the more "correct" "you were".) To some, Bob's accent sounds American (Southern or Midwestern) at this point, indicating that his entire identity as "English" Bob is a fabrication. His first words upon seeing Little Bill, "Shit and fried eggs," may be more evidence for this. They are almost inaudible but show up in closed captions.
    • The very loud rant he gives the people of Big Whiskey (see under Defiant to the End) as they run him out of town is spoken in what sounds like very coarse Cockney. By that point he's totally humiliated and blinded with rage and has no reason to pretend anymore.
  • Parental Neglect: Munny leaves his two young children to fend for themselves while he risks his life to collect the bounty.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The last 20 minutes of this are William Munny falling deeply into this trope after Little Bill kills Ned Logan.
  • Persona Non Grata: After beating and jailing English Bob, Little Bill sends him off on a wagon going out of town with a warning never to return.
    Little Bill: I suppose you know, Bob, if I ever see you again I'm just going to start shooting and figure it was self-defense.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Just for Munny, though. His partners readily take "advances".
  • Police Brutality: Little Bill enjoys doling out beatings whenever he has someone from out of town at his mercy. When English Bob claims he's unarmed Bill's posse takes his weapons at gunpoint, and then Bill proceeds to make an example of him by kicking the crap out of Bill while loudly declaring he won't tolerate assassins in his town coming to collect on the bounty. That night he sets up English Bob to get shot while trying to escape, but Bob wisely doesn't take the bait. A few days later he beats the hell out of Munny (and doesn't bother to arrest him) for lying about having a gun. Even later, he accidentally whips Ned to death for his involvement in killing Davey. Bill certainly doesn't seem too upset about having accidentally whipped a man to death while rounding up the posse to go catch his partners.
  • Power Equals Rarity: The Schofield Kid uses a Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver; more specifically, one of the modified and improved 1875 "Schofield" models. This is a state-of-the-art revolver that shoots straight, won't jam and won't blow up in your hand. His is the only Schofield in the movie; it even gives him his nickname. This revolver grants his owner a definite advantage compared to other weapons like shotguns that misfire or the prone-to-explode Colt Walker. Predictably, the Schofield ends up in Will Munny's hands who uses it in the final gunfight.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Averted when Munny kills Little Bill. Little Bill says "I'll See You in Hell, William Munny," and instead of dashing off a clever retort, Munny simply replies "Yeah..."
  • Punctuated Pounding: As Bill kicks the shit out of English Bob (and later William Munny), he extols the reasons for the beating and derides the quality of his victim.
  • Quick Draw: Downplayed; As Little Bill notes when he's talking to the writer while being fast on the draw is perfectly fine...those who draw and start blazing away without taking the time to properly aim as a rule end up dead — while a slower, but more accurate, gunfighter will, as a rule, end up the victor.
    Little Bill: Look here. *draws quickly but not overly fast* That's about as fast as I can draw, aim, and hit anything more than ten feet away. 'Less it's a barn...
    • Demonstrated to brutal effect in the final shootout where, even though Munny throws his misfiring shotgun at him to buy time, Little Bill draws his gun and shoots faster than Munny can- and misses. Munny then guns him down, and steadily blows away the deputies one by one as they all blaze away at him in a panic.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: The whole point of the film is to point out that you'd have to be pretty cold-blooded or crazy to work as a gunfighter. An alternate point (which the Schofield Kid seems to get) is that killing someone costs the killer almost as much as the victim.
  • Reconstruction:
    • While the movie is primarily a Deconstruction, the final fight scene is more or less played straight and Munny isn't portrayed as in the wrong. Word of God says that the movie wasn't so much "violence is bad" as it is "violence is complex and only applicable in certain situations".
    • Something of a Broken Aesop in that case: While Little Bill went too far in killing Ned and is repeatedly portrayed as a sadist who takes pleasure in doling out his version of justice, he believed the man he killed had murdered the babyfaced and relatively innocent — but still guilt-ridden — Davey in cold blood just for a quick pay-off. Munny convinced Ned to come along and help him commit a couple of contract killings despite the latter's misgivings; who's really responsible for getting him killed?
  • Redemption Failure:
    • Munny is a former bad man, who tried to make a go at being a farmer for the sake of his wife. When she dies and his farm fails to earn him anything beyond a wretched subsistence, in desperation he decides to take on One Last Job for enough money to start over. When Ned dies he fully slides back to his old ways for one evening. Afterwards, it was rumored that he eventually returned to a mundane life once more.
    • Little Bill, too. By his own admission, he is a bad man, but he's trying to make a go of it by being a sheriff. He just happens to be a little too brutal at his job and pisses off the wrong assassin.
  • Red Light District: Not a whole district of them, but there's at least one brothel. It does turn up a lot in the film, though.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Ned's wife Sally doesn't trust Will.
  • Rejected Apology: Davey trying to give his prize horse to Delilah as an apology for her newly scarred face. (Remember, it was Davey's partner who had cut up Delilah, and Davey tried to stop him.) Before Delilah could accept or reject it, the other prostitutes drive off Davey in rage, declaring that a simple horse isn't going to fix what was done to her.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns:
    • Misfiring guns feature prominently in both the backstory and the climax, which is appropriate for the time period, in which lower-quality guns and ammo were more common. The rainy night of the climax might also have played a factor in one rather important misfire.
    • Little Bill, when telling W.W. Beauchamp the real story about how English Bob killed Two-Gun Corcoran, explains that Corcoran's Walker Colt exploded on him, allowing Bob to get the drop on him. This was a problem that Walker Colts really had.
  • Retired Badass: Deconstructed with Will and Ned. They have latent skills, but have been out of the game so long they don't have the same instincts and reflexes they once had. Ned starts off confident but loses his nerve trying to kill the first cowboy. Will starts off almost catatonic, but slowly descends into the cold killer he once was.
    • Subverted with English Bob, an old man who admittedly demonstrates some proficiency with a pistol, but it turns out that he is literally only a badass on paper.
  • Retired Gunfighter: Both Will Munny and Ned Logan were retired and had families until the Kid convinced them to come along for a bounty.
  • Retired Monster:
    • There's a reason why Will Munny is unforgiven. He doesn't seem to really regret his previous life all that much, except when it comes to his deceased wife. But then Munny got pissed at what they did to Ned.
    • Little Bill describes both English Bob and himself as bad men, implying he thinks they both are this.
    • It's never exactly stated but given he's an old friend/colleague of Munny's, it can be presumed Ned has a pretty bad past too.
  • Riddle for the Ages: We never learn why Claudia and William married, only the effect it had on the latter.
    Closing Title Card: Some years later, Mrs. Ansonia Feathers made the arduous journey to Hodgeman County to visit the last resting place of her only daughter. William Munny had long since disappeared with the children... some said to San Francisco where it was rumored he prospered in dry goods. And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted after Little Bill kills Ned; while Munny stalks into town to take his cold-blooded revenge on the man who killed his best friend and the owner of the saloon who put his corpse on display, he's remarkably controlled. Despite being described throughout the film as a psychotic butcher, once he guns down all the men who are actively shooting at him, he tells everyone else to just Get Out!, even those who are still clutching loaded weapons. Even before that, he warns bystanders to move away to avoid collateral damage before he shoots Skinny and Bill.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Ned decides he can't shoot people for money anymore, and he leaves town to go home. Munny insists he will still get his share of the reward regardless.
    • Beauchamp quickly leaves the saloon and the town of Big Whiskey after the saloon massacre. And he probably had nightmares about Munny for the rest of his life.
  • See You in Hell: Little Bill, to William Munny. And Munny accepts the truth of it.
    "I'll see you in Hell, William Munny."
  • Sex for Services: The whores allow Munny's companions to take 'advances' on their payment as they don't actually have the full amount they're promising.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: W.W. Beauchamp is detained along with English Bob. When asked to provide credentials, Beauchamp reaches into his bag to produce a sample of his writing... and immediately realizes that every gun in sight is now cocked and pointed at him. He promptly wets himself.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shrouded in Myth:
    • William Munny. Funnily enough, it seems that the real facts about Will Munny's exploits are more fantastical than the urban legends. He claims he was drunk during most of them, so even he isn't clear on the details.
    • English Bob is a subversion. While he does seem to have some genuine skills (shooting a bird in flight from a moving train with a pistol is pretty damn impressive), it seems likely that most of his exploits are padded.
    • Subverted also when The Schofield Kid is babbling about his kill. "He reached for his gun and I shot him." In truth, when the Kid shot him the man had his hands up and his gun was well out of reach. This is probably how most of the myths come about. What the kid said was basically true, but he didn't tell the middle part (the man did reach for his gun, but his gunbelt was hanging on a peg on the inside of the outhouse door and moved completely out of his reach when the Kid opened the door. He tried raising his hands and talking instead, and the Kid shot him with his empty hands raised). There's also probably a bit of selective rewriting of history going on in the process, since given the mood the Kid is in, he would probably rather remember (and have others remember) that he shot a man who was preparing to shoot him rather than that he shot an unarmed and entirely defenseless man pleading for his life with his empty hands raised.
  • Skewed Priorities: During the final shootout Beauchamp is more concerned about mining material for his dime novels than he is about the fact that he is in the middle of a shootout surrounded by dead bodies.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Probably one of the most cynical Westerns of all time.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: When Little Bill first meets Beauchamp, who insists he's just a writer, Bill asks, "Writer? Of notes and such?" After the climactic shootout, Beauchamp tells Will Munny he's just an unarmed writer. Will's reply? "Writer? Notes and such?"
  • Taking a Third Option: Little Bill, to prove how difficult it actually is to shoot a man, hands a pistol to biographer W.W. Beauchamp. He sets the keys to English Bob's cell on the table and tells Beauchamp all he has to do is shoot him and then Beauchamp and English Bob can escape. Beauchamp questions whether the gun is loaded at first and is indeed extremely nervous to even hold it (failing to put his finger on the trigger), and Little Bill moves to take the gun back. Then Beauchamp gets the bright idea of giving the pistol to Bob, reasoning that the far more experienced gunslinger will not hesitate to shoot his tormentor. Bill, seemingly unfazed, dares him to do so. English Bob stands up and comes to the bars of his cell within reach of the gun and Little Bill moves his hand near his own pistol, staring him down. After a moment's hesitation English Bob declines to take the gun. He shakes his head, possibly at his own cowardice, as Little Bill demonstrates that the gun was indeed loaded by emptying it in front of him.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Little Bill captures Ned and wants information, immediately breaking out the whip. Ned does not survive.
  • Teeny Weenie: Quick Mike cut up Delilah because she laughed at his small penis.
  • Throw-Away Guns:
    • Clyde, one of Little Bill's deputies, carries three guns for this reason. He has only one arm and would be unable to reload in a fight. Also, contrary to the myth of the Colt Peacemaker, most of the guns available in the West during the time period were older cap-and-ball revolvers such as the Colt Navy, Dragoon, and 1860 Army. Reloading one of these weapons is a very slow processnote  so it was quite common for a gunfighter to carry multiple pistols and to just draw a backup weapon rather than stop and reload.
    • Subverted in English Bob's real backstory regarding "Two Gun" Corcoran. In Bob's embellished version, Corcoran had the Meaningful Name of "Two Gun" because he always went Guns Akimbo. In actuality, he was so nicknamed thanks to being well-endowed. Little Bill tells W.W. Beauchamp that had Corcoran actually carried a second gun, Bob would not have killed him even after Corcoran's gun blew up in his hand, because Bob was too drunk to shoot straight.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Really, Skinny? You don't even carry a gun but you thought it would be a good idea to put Will Munny's best friend on display outside your saloon? And then just stand there when he tells everyone else to clear out?
    • Ned told Little Bill: "If you kill me, Will Munny will come for you!" Little Bill ignored the warning and killed Ned. Later, with Munny's rifle pointing at his face, Little Bill whines: "I don't deserve to die like this!" Bub, you had been warned.
  • Tuckerization: Corky Corcoran was named after a cameraman who was filming a promotional spot for another Clint Eastwood movie. During a break in the interview, Eastwood asked what his name was, and when told it was Corky Corcoran, Clint did not believe him. His given name is John, but he went by Corky his whole life. Clint said that was a hell of a name.
  • Undignified Death: Quick Mike is killed squatting on the john in his underwear holding up his empty hands. His last words before he was shot were begging the boy who had him under a gun not to kill him.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In keeping with the overall Deconstruction of the Western, a running theme throughout the movie is that many of the characters are either actively trying to rewrite their pasts in order to make them seem better than they were, or have hazy recollections of them to begin with. These fraudulent and flawed recollections then go on to become myths of the West. This starts off early on, as Will only considers the offer from the Schofield Kid because he said the target graphically maimed a prostitute, cutting up her face, carving her body, and chopping off her fingers, when in realty she just had some cuts to her face.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Billiards."
  • Villain-by-Proxy Fallacy: The working girls put out a $1,000 bounty on the heads of two cowboys, Quick Mike and Davey Bunting. While this is understandable in Mike's case (he cut up one of the prostitutes pretty badly), Davey's only crime is his poor choice of friends.
  • Villain Protagonist: The main characters are Professional Killers looking for a pay-out on an illegal bounty. They are opposed by The Sheriff who is actively trying to keep law and order and stop the hit. The Killers happen to be reluctant and fighting their own demons, while the Sheriff has a sadistic streak and the reason for the bounty itself was considered Disproportionate Retribution. The film in general features Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Judging from the details given on their backstories, English Bob, Munny, and Ned did some pretty horrific things in the past. Part of the reason Munny and Ned can remain sympathetic is that those things are only described, not shown (although William Munny's crimes, at least, are described in enough detail to remind the audience that while he's not without sympathetic qualities, he's also capable of pure, remorseless evil).
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Best shown by Davey's death. There is nothing noble or glorious about a teenage boy bleeding to death in agony from a stomach wound. Nor is there anything cool about Mike's death, the poor bastard dies being riddled with bullets in the outhouse. There's Little Bill's beating of Munny, which we get to see in full, also disturbing. Judging from their expressions even Bill's deputies seem to agree. And also his savage beating of a visiting pompous Englishman, which is interspersed with Reaction Shots of all the assembled townsfolk who look uncomfortable and afraid of the kind of man who is supposed to be their local peacekeeper.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Will Munny and his wife. As the opening narration says: "She was a comely young woman and not without prospects. Therefore it was heartbreaking to her mother that she would enter into marriage with William Munny, a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition."
  • "What Now?" Ending: The fate of the town of Big Whiskey is left up in the air after Will massacres Little Bill and his deputies.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Subverted when Little Bill calls out Will for shooting an unarmed man, Will has none of that since the man is desecrating Ned's body by putting it in front of his saloon as a warning, you don't get to play innocent.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Will took the kids and left for San Francisco, where he prospered in selling dry goods. And Claudia's mother visited her grave, finding no explanation why her only daughter had married "a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition."
  • Who Will Bell the Cat?: At the end of the film, after the climactic shoot-out, Munny shouts out a threatening warning that anyone who takes a shot at him as he leaves will pay dearly for it. Two men, one a deputy holding a rifle, are hiding behind a wagon as Munny emerges and have him dead to rights... but the deputy is too terrified to take the shot, in case he misses. He offers the rifle to the other man, but he won't touch it either, and Munny rides away unmolested.

The Japanese version provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: In this version, Ichizo's men do not receive names or any character development.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: Downplayed; a fire starts at the saloon right at the beginning of the final showdown, but it doesn't really get that big until the fight is mostly over.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Ichizo cuts Jubei's face with a broken bottle.
  • Illegal Religion: Christianity was illegal in Japan until very recently, and Jubei is believed to have executed women and children for practicing it.
  • Race Lift: The characters are all Japanese, obviously, but notably Goro is Ainu. This adds tension to his characterization, as many "Wa" (ethnically Japanese) look down on the Ainu as little more than animals, and an Ainu who kills a Wa will be hunted for the rest of his life.
  • Scenery Porn: The beautiful Hokkaido landscape gets a lot of attention from the camera.