The career transformation that Clint Eastwood has endured over the last several generations can be called nothing short of extraordinary. After all, we are talking about a guy who made a steady name for himself in action films of the late ’60s and ’70s, first appearing in the spaghetti western films of Sergio Leone, then moving onto the Dirty Harry films of director Don Siegel, before moving on again to more of a directing role. Some of his works were hits and others were plain misses.
Then you have the case of Unforgiven a script that, admittedly he hung onto for years as a bit of a security blanket. In case of career drought, break glass, so to speak. The film helped vault Eastwood into the upper echelon of American directors while simultaneously providing a fitting closure to an earlier level of his stardom. With the help of similar top-shelf acting talent in key supporting roles, Unforgiven also perhaps did something that few other films have failed to do, which was to give a reflective farewell to a treasured genre of film.
Eastwood plays Will Munny, a man who never hesitated to ravage people and kill them at the drop of a hat. He has since been reformed and was born again, in large part to a marriage that ultimately ended with her death. A young neophyte named the Schofield Kid comes around Munny’s place and mentions that there is a reward for someone who assaulted a prostitute (and received a light sentence at the hands of the sheriff named Little Bill (played by Gene Hackman, The French Connection). Will, the Kid and Will’s friend Ned (Morgan Freeman, Se7en) go to the town of Big Whiskey to find the man and claim the reward.
The movie’s story does revolve around those events and a few others, but it’s a larger rumination on violence and how much of it can corrupt a human being. There’s a key scene where Will, Ned and the kid ambush a couple of cowboys, and Ned is unable to fire the final shot to kill one of them, whereas Will grabs the rifle and fires away. They’ve both been away from killing for a few years, but the fact that Will can still do it so calmly says more about his character than anything else.
The performances remain excellent after almost a decade, as Eastwood, Freeman and Hackman are all superior in the roles and Eastwood as Munny effectively portrays a man who is forever corrupted by violence no matter how many times he denies it. Hackman has ice water in his veins as the almost cruel sheriff, and Freeman’s Ned is a great portrayal of how things can change in the average person. Unforgiven is an even larger classic as time gives things more distance.
Unforgiven strays from its OAR and appears in a 2.4:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. I think the Warner strategy may be to make most of their films in this aspect ratio to make the menus a little bit easier, but the HD presentation flushes out a lot of detail that I hadn’t seen before. The Munny house in Unforgiven (and some of the Big Whiskey) houses are really more set out against the backdrop and look more three-dimensional than before, and the red pops a bit more in Eastwood’s shirt as he rides into town.
The Dolby Digital Plus track doesn’t do too much during the film, but it does help provide some low end fidelity to gunshots and other action stunts that make it sound good. And since there are a couple of scenes that are set in a thunderstorm, the environmental effects all sound convincing to boot.
The extras on this disc are ported over from the standard Anniversary Edition version from a couple of years ago, but those extras aren’t entirely disappointing. A commentary with Time critic (and Eastwood colleague) Richard Schickel is OK, but doesn’t really contribute much more past the other bonus material on the disc. “All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger” can possibly be considered a making of look at the picture, but the surprise is the cast shares more about their thoughts on the characters they play in the film more than the film itself, and it’s quite intellectual and a treat to see.
There’s a more traditional look at the production of the film that is narrated by Hal Holbrook and it’s better than the first piece. It starts as a generic EPK and works from there into how Eastwood handles a production, and includes interviews with collaborators who have been with him for decades. Two pieces on Eastwood follow, one’s a quicker 10 minute hit touching on his career, another longer piece (entitled “Eastwood on Eastwood”) is more all-encompassing of the actor/director’s life, up until Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This one has more participation from Eastwood so there is more openness in this than other extras on the disc and is a treat to watch as well. An early Eastwood appearance on Maverick completes the extras, as Clint and a similarly young James Garner (The Rockford Files) match wits and sharpshooting ability on the show.
Unforgiven was an already solid addition to anyone’s library, and Warner has improved it in all the right areas and for the small group of you with a HD DVD player, you should be content with this upgrade, as the audio and video are noticeable improvements over the standard def version.