Before shooting Ned's killer, the whacked-out, brutal sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman), Eastwood intones, "that's right, I've killed women and children. I've killed everything that walks or crawls at some point. And now I'm here to kill you." And after the killing he surmises that he's "always been lucky when it comes to killing folks." If the movie comments on itself as an Eastwood vehicle, this scene, not the PC trappings, is the key point. It's another admission/assertion that Munny, like Eastwood, isn't like everyone else after all, he's special. Like Callahan's, Munny's specialty resides somewhere in the baser parts of our imagination, the part that helps, from time to time, to suspend our civilized rationality. Munny, however, is not as transparently or thoroughly a good guy as Dirty Harry. Wounded and waiting for the point-blank shotgun blast that will finish him, Little Bill says to Munny, "I don't deserve to die like this. I was building a house," to which Munny replies, "deserves got nothing to do with it." Certainly Little Bill deserves to die, but the line implies that this killing isn't entirely dissimilar from the others in Munny's past, when he slaughtered for money in a drunken haze. The image of Eastwood as an avenging angel is further deconstructed when, with his last breath, as Munny is cocking the hammer, Little Bill tells Munny he'll see him in hell. "Yeah," says Eastwood with the patented sideways jaw-flex. Then, blam! On the way out, he sees another of his victims (some of whom he had shot in the back as they tried to escape) move and, without breaking stride, gives him a blast, too.
This version of the Eastwood vigilante is placed in a context that precludes complete moral justification, and in fact demands condemnation, and in turn, we cannot help but be aware of our own impulses when we still root him on. It is, finally, a moment of acknowledgment, of trust and respect, given to the audience by our star. He lets us know here that he knows we don't need or want to be tricked, that we are aware of the implications of our viewership. He lets us choose the violence, in a sense.
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