90s western directed by and starring Clint Eastwood that set the Academy’s loins alight, which can only be because this is A Clint Eastwood Western. There are a couple of glaring problems here. Foremost is a screenplay afflicted by chronic unsubtlety — rarely are character traits hauled onto the screen in such obvious terms. This compounds, or is compounded, by Clint Eastwood’s very real limitations as an actor. Many a film has been carried by charm, and Eastwoodian charm has done its share of heavy-lifting. But you can’t charm your way out of corners in a character drama — these live and die by performances even when scripts fall flat. His one-note delivery fails to sell the central idea behind his role, and though the writing hasn’t helped him, one will find the relevant indictment in his co-stars. Morgan Freeman intimates some of the latent nastiness a former bounty-hunter should entail, but it’s Gene Hackman who truly transcends his compositional constraints. His turn in large-sections that bare little relation to the plot carries them simply as cinema in a way the “important” parts are not — at once warm, frightening, compelling. The Academy, as far as he is concerned, did get one thing right.