Filmed in 1992, The Unforgiven portrays a modern, revisionist view of the classic western genre. The film uses a seemingly traditional western plotline and setting, contrasted with its much revised characters to provide a severe critique of the values promoted in the classic genre. Although Clint Eastwood’s character, William Munny, does portray alpha male cowboy traits, stolid, hardened and isolated, the traits are portrayed in a much different light. Rather than praised and glorified as in classic western fashion, the very same attributes are used to demonstrate the cowboy’s damaged and painful state of mind. The violent lifestyle characteristic of the traditional alpha male cowboy is revealed without the splendor and triumph to expose it as the disturbed and absurd behavior it is in actuality.
Morgan Freeman’s character further breaks the mold of the traditional western. Freeman plays Ned Logan, a black cowboy and partner-in-crime to Bill Munny. Ned represents the black character, formerly cast off as an “other,” acquiring equal status with the alpha male. Bill repeatedly demonstrates his respect for Ned and commitment to their camaraderie. He refuses to take part in the mission without his old partner and in the end, is driven back to his deranged behavior after Ned’s murder.