Gene Hackman won his second Oscar from his fifth nomination for portraying Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven.
Hackman manages to excel in every aspect of his character, and from the beginning he shows that Little Bill is not a standard villain. In his first scene Hackman plays Little Bill as caring more for not causing violence, and perceiving his judgment of the two cowboys who cut up a prostitute as the right thing to do. At this moment he does not show a ruthless man he is, but rather just a sheriff trying to do the right thing. The fact that Hackman does not play him like a villain works perfectly in creating the complexity of Little Bill.
The best scenes though that I think show that he is not really completely evil are his scenes where he is building his house. Although he is not particularly good at it, Hackman really shows some honest pride in what he does, that shows a genuine joy he has in this accomplishment. In these moments Hackman shows no psychopath, killer, or bully, but just a normal man. I particularly like when he hears someone say something negative about his work, Hackman does not play it like a villain hearing an insult, but instead reacts more effectively by showing it really hurting him, becuase building the house is something he truly cares about.
These scenes of house building work as an excellent contrast though to his far more brutal scenes. Hackman is appropriately cruel in these moments. There is an incredible intensity Hackman brings to his performance. He makes Little Bill always in command of his situation. He is completely in charge in almost every one of his scenes. He makes Little Bill absolutely the man in charge of all of Big Whiskey which is entirely realized by Hackman's overwhelming presence in each of these scenes.
Hackman is especially chilling though in certain scenes where he shows the cold blooded killer that is inside of Little Bill. This is especially well shown by Hackman in his scene with the novel writer and the gunfighter English Bob (Richard Harris) held in prison by Little Bill. In this scene Hackman for some of it shows Little Bill's history of the dangerous men. Hackman has the right ease here really showing Little Bill great knowledge of what it takes to be a gunfighter. With his relaxed manner of approach the subject Hackman makes it all the more effective when he shows the cold chilling nature in Little Bill when he starts playing around with a gun.
His most chilling moment though comes in his scene where he is torturing information about the assassins from one of the bounty hunters going to kill the cowboys. Hackman is incredible in how brutally, but quietly tells how he is going to hurt the man until he gets what he wants. Hackman does not overact it instead he brings the cruelty of Little Bill fully to life. What I do think is amazing though is how he is able to bring all the aspects of Little Bill completely into the one character. The more chilling, as well as the more humane characteristics all into a single man, it is this is what makes his performance truly great.