2 old gun slinger partners played by Eastwood and Freeman are out for a bounty. When told of 2 men who slashed up a woman's face and the reward that goes along with it, Eastwood decides to pursue the men in order to make a better life for his family. Ultimately the town of Big Whiskey is where the 2 men can be found so that is where they head.
Eastwoods character had just lost his wife 3 years earlier and has devoted himself to being a better man. One question asked..do ones roots really ever change?
The main setting of the movie, Big Whiskey Wyoming is led by a brutal, violent sheriff played brilliantly by Hackman. He is a mean SOB and runs the town like a dictatorship.
You know the meeting between the 2 main characters is inevitable and it builds up nicely.
The moral questions are fantastic, the acting, set peices, dialogue...it's all great stuff. If I liked Westerns as a whole more the rating would be higher.
Eastwood takes the standard stoic gunslinger and steeps it in a more human, vulnerable take whilst retaining that gritty core.
Westerns, particularly the types Eastwood starred in, have strong thematic ties that are clear here, but as with all great westerns, the story and the setting are but backdrops for the struggles of individual characters and their attempt to carve out a living one way or another in the frontier, oftentimes with the forces of modernity and industrialization creeping in and changing the landscape. Whether romanticized or not, the setting is usually full of violence and heroes and villains (anti-heroes being common to Eastwood's films).
So it is very interesting to see this setting and the themes it evokes handled in a manner that essentially revokes the standard tropes that acquit the bad things the characters do and plays things with stark realism and, ultimately, senselessness that comes when you discount human life. Unlike the faceless bandits getting shot down in quick-draw gunfights having no real impact, most every single death in the movie has real consequences and the weight of taking a life weighs heavy on various characters. Eastwood's character makes a statement about his prior violent ways, blaming it on his constant drunkenness which enabled him to commit wanton murder without flinching or guilt. An interesting take on some of his earlier characters, to be sure.
All in all, a strong western film that is elevated by the VERY self-aware analysis of the genre. It helps to have a solid grounding in western films to truly get this one.
Fantastic cast. This is a top-of-the shelf kind of movie.