Released in 1992, Unforgiven continues to stand as the final statement Clint Eastwood has to say on the subject of the Old West. Eastwood’s direction guides this summing up of the Western genre which made him a star, and which he almost single-handedly kept alive as it was replaced by space operas was rewarded with his first Academy Award in the category. Co-star Gene Hackman joined the exclusive club of those who added a Best Supporting Actor trophy to their Best Actor win with his brilliant portrayal of sadistic authority obstructing justice as a matter of course.
During its more than a decade of being shopped from one Hollywood studio to another and one producer to another, Hackman had already turned down the role of Little Bill once by the time the project came around to Clint Eastwood. Eastwood’s inextricable connection to the Western as the last remaining icon of the genre still in the business doubtlessly played a role in Hackman’s turnabout. In addition to Oscars for Eastwood and Hackman, Unforgiven also pulled off something of an upset by beating out The Crying Game despite that movie reaching its peak as the talk of the town right when Oscar voters were receiving their ballots.
That win made Unforgiven, perhaps surprisingly, only the third Western to ever take home the top prize. Eastwood’s win marked the turning point of his career from icon of horse operas and cop movies into one of Hollywood’s most honored directors. In the first 20 years of his career as a director, Eastwood had received not one single Oscar nomination for Best Director. Unforgiven would be the first of three movies for which Eastwood would not only be nominated, but would actually take home the Best Director prize over the next dozen years.