As far as Eastwood's "man with no name" character goes, there's NONE of that in the portrayal of William Munny. "No Name" does what he does in those movies willingly and with no regrets about his present and past. In UNFORGIVEN, Munny reluctantly does what he does and is FULL of regrets about his past and unsure of his present and future.
This is not a reprise of the man with no name character. That character is a laconic anti-hero - an almost mythological figure - a killer, but with a heart of gold really, who will ultimately fight on the side of non-evil.
William Munny is no anti-hero. He was a very, very bad man. A man within whom dwells a monster - a monster that is unlocked from its cage by alcohol. He has done terrible things in the past. He has been so vicious that even his gang feared him. Because a woman - and she must have been quite a woman - managed to give him something that the alcohol could not provide - peace - he became sober and, ultimately, a family man.
But in his sobriety, the memories of his terrible acts of the past play on his mind - and his heart - constantly. His living wife would have been a salve to the inner torment of those memories, but with her death, they intrude more and more into his guilt-ridden existence.
Nevertheless, to honor her love for him and to do the right thing by his children, he keeps the monster locked down. He doesn't drink and he talks out his torment to the one and only friend left in his life.
That the movie has the title "Unforgiven" is no accident. He knows that his past evil has damned him to this suffering, no matter what. Every breath is a struggle for him. Every day a fight to get through it loaded down with the guilt he lives with. If he didn't have children I really don't think he'd have a prayer of staying sober and non-evil.
The most revealing scene in the movie about all this - and there are many hints of it throughout - is when he has a brief moment of consciousness while fighting for his life against a killing fever. He speaks of seeing the devil -"he's got snakes eyes", he says. And he pleads, anguished, "Oh, Ned - don't tell nobody - don't tell my kids - none of the things I done". Even in that brief moment of consciousness, the guilt of his very being instantly returns. It's with him ever.
Throughout the film, he embodies in his carriage sorrow, regret, and a sad resolution of the weight he carries.
When he learns of the way Little Bill treated Ned - ultimately killing him - the change that comes over him is chilling. The anger that floods through him causes him - with immediateness - to free the monster he's been suppressing all the years since his wife convinced him to. He takes the bottle from the Kid - the key - and deliberately opens the cage so that what must be done can be done. The scene still gives me goosebumps, though I've watched it 20 times now. The cold fury in William Munny is palpable - maybe the best - the most genuine - I've ever seen acted.
Whenever I'm changing channels around - and I stumble onto this movie - at any point in the movie - I have to stop. And I never ever stop watching till it ends.
And I haven't even mentioned the fascinating characters of Little Bill and English Bob who provide some stunningly riveting scenes in this unbelievably good movie.
I love a good western - and even some not so good ones - but I've never been so engrossed by one as with 'Unforgiven'.