When Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven in 1992, he was in a transitional period of his career. Though he was still making pop junk like Pink Cadillac and The Rookie, he had also directed Bird – which started his career as an art-house/Oscar friendly director (though that film was mostly ignored). Eastwood was getting old, and there was sense that he had to stop playing these sorts of role. Unforgiven was his great Western standoff, and he assembled a great cast that included Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris in a career-defining work. Our review of the Blu-ray of Unforgiven follows after the jump.
The film begins with an incident in a whorehouse. Two cowboys cut up a young prostitute, and when sheriff “Little” Bill Daggett (Hackman) offers the ladies less justice than they wanted, the prostitutes band together to offer a bounty. William Munny (Eastwood) is living on a farm with his children, having buried his wife. He’s been out of the game for a long time but when ‘The Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) shows up to tell him about the reward, Will is suckered in and brings in his old pal Ned Logan (Freeman).
Also looking for the bounty is English Bob (Harris) who comes to town with his biographer (Saul Rubinek) in tow. Little Bill doesn’t take kindly to gunslingers and decides to tell the biographer what really happened in some of the incidents he wrote about. And so begins one of the film’s great strengths – it cuts down the visage of the noble gunslinger and mighty duels. Though filmmakers from Sam Peckinpah to Arthur Penn had done revisionist history approaches to their works, Eastwood delivers it in his straightforward, no-nonsense style, so it comes across as fresh.
As Munny and his gang inch closer to town, Will gets sick and nearly dies (another great complication), while it’s revealed that the kid is nearly blind and has never killed anyone before. And when his crew come into town, Little Bill doesn’t take kindly to it.
What marks the film as a masterpiece is the sequence where the gang go sharpshooting for one of the men and they hit him, but he doesn’t die right away. They have to wait – agonizingly – as the man slowly shuffles off his mortal coil. Though arguably the last section features more of the heroic bloodshed that’s associated with the genre, the film offers the audience complicated relationships with both Little Bill and William Munny so there is no one person who is more right than the other. Unforgiven allows for a modestly happy ending for at least a couple of the characters, so it’s manages to undercut those expecting the more bleak approaches of other revisionists.
Most Westerns since Jobn Ford sent John Wayne off “saved from the blessings of civilization,” have been about the end of the west, and it’s a theme that has been wrestled with because of the nature of the world films were born in. Real cowboys were becoming a thing of the past as film was learning how to tell a narrative, and so cinema has always looked at the west as something that’s on the verge of ending. But David Webb Peoples’s script is similar to Robert Towne’s work on Chinatown – it knows the genre and uses many of its tropes, but does so in a way that makes the material feel fresh and not simply homage. It’s a truly great work from everyone involved, and the performances are all top notch. It’s a masterpiece.
Warner Brothers has issued the film in a Book-style edition. For those who want to read a little about the film and its stars, I guess it’s worth it, but it offers no picture. sound or supplement upgrades. The film is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1. The picture and sound are – as we said – exactly the same as the last time, and it looks really good. Extras include a commentary by Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, and he’s smart about the film. It’s also got four featurettes “Eastwood on Eastwood” (69 min.), which offers a nice (though a bit glossy) portrait of his career through to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It’s followed by ‘All on Accounta Pulling the Trigger” (23 min.) which is film specific, and offers thoughts from Eastwood, Freeman and Gene Hackman among others on the film. “Eastwood & Co.” (24 min.) is a period featurette, while “Eastwood… A Star” (16 min.) offers a shorter walk through the man’s career. There’s also a Maverick episode called “Duel at Sundown” (49 min.) that featured Eastwood in a sizable role, and the film’s theatrical trailer is also included.