Unforgiven: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Roughly twenty years ago, Clint Eastwood bought the film rights to a little movie called Unforgiven. At the time, he didn’t feel like he was right for it yet, so there it sat for ten years. Then, in 1992 the film went onto win several Academy Awards including Best Picture. The film has been called “the last great western” somehow meaning that the genre should be retired. I tend to disagree, as we’re still making films about World War II and I’m sure that the old west has some more great stories in it. As Eastwood ages (about as gracefully as anyone can), he tends to surround himself with peers as opposed to the “in” actors. The cast of Unforgiven could be called geriatric as the other co-stars are Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman (who won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in this film). Unforgiven isn’t your typical western, either. It takes place during the twilight of the “Old” west, when gunfighters weren’t so common anymore. The 20th century was upon the Old West and all of the sudden men like William Munny (Eastwood) were more of a minority.

The film is an obvious reflection of Eastwood’s own role in movies. Munny, now a reformed man thanks in part to his wife (who is now deceased), has given up his ways of drinking and killing. He’s now a hog farmer and isn’t really that good at it. Essentially, the plot of the movie is what makes films like this good. It’s just about revenge, plain and simple. Two men have gone too far and have cut up a prostitute in Big Whiskey, Wyoming. Her face is now scarred and the other prostitutes in town have combined their money and offered a reward to anyone who will exact revenge upon the men who did this. Big Whiskey is ruled with an iron fist by Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a relatively simple man who is now building his own house. A hired gun by the name of English Bob (Richard Harris) has come to town, complete with a reporter documenting his every move (Saul Rubinek). Little Bill beats English Bob until an inch of his death and in essence, has ruined any chance of the women getting their revenge. This is where William Munny enters the scene again.

The “Schofield Kid” shows up on Will’s ranch asking for his assistance in getting the reward. Munny initially rejects the kid’s offer, but realizing that the money will do him good; he joins with his partner of old, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). The two discover that they have changed, domesticated by their wives and the thrill of killing isn’t at the top of their lists anymore. As Ned decides to turn back, he is caught and killed by Little Bill. This is when we get to see the side of Eastwood that we all so love. Upon Ned’s death (he’s put on display outside the bar even after he is deceased), Will decides that enough is enough. Having not taken a drink in over a decade, we see him chug whiskey and know that justice will be served. Revenge.

Many call this Eastwood’s best movie and while I’m more of a “Dirty Harry” fan, I can honestly say that this is one of the better films I’ve seen. The pacing is slow and if you’re looking for an action movie, this has it, but in a different form. Showing his age, Eastwood seems to have it all together here. While Unforgiven may just be a tale of revenge, it does show what storytelling and a great script will do for a movie. Cited as one of the Top 100 greatest movies ever made (#98) by the American Film Institute, Unforgiven is a throwback to the great Westerns that Eastwood himself helped make popular. This is not to be missed and the new DVD renders the old version obsolete.

Video: How does it look?

Unforgiven was literally one of the first DVD’s made. Warner released it in the fledgling days of the format waaaaay back in 1997 andt he image, though anamorphic, was questionable at best. The new DVD has been given a brand new transfer downconverted from the original High Definition master. The results are incredible. Click here to see some screen shots from the old version and the new one. The entire image is much sharper and clearer. The colors are purposely muted, but they appear to have a much warmer hue here. Detail has been vastly improved as well. The film is just ten years old, so it’s good to have a newer film finally look it’s best. Many of the scenic shots of the “Old” West look amazing in the transfer. The picture alone justifies the purchase of this disc.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the same that was used in the original DVD release. This doesn’t exactly make it “bad” though. Many of the effects are located to the front stage, thereby making it more of a Dolby Surround mix as opposed to a real strong 5.1 mix. However the surrounds, when used, are used with great effectiveness. Several subtle effects such as wind, birds chirping or rain falling occupy the surrounds and it adds a great deal of depth to the film. Dialogue, as expected, is very natural and free of any distortion one might find in an older film. While the entire track is good, it’s not great but the action on the screen will occupy most people’s attention; the sound just adds to the mystique of the movie…as it should.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Releaed back in the early days of the format, Unforgiven was just relelased with a theatrical trailer. Back then, supplements weren’t the real selling point of a DVD, it was mainly being tested by Warner to see if it would take. Well, it did and now that we’ve waited some five years; we have a great Special Edition that essentially renders the old version obsolete. A two-disc special edition is what we’re greeted with, with the majority of the supplements on the second disc. The audio commentary is by Time magazine film critic and Eastwood biographer, Richard Shickel. Mr. Shickel is also one of the people who coordinated with the American Film Institute and wrote the American Film Insitute’s 100 Years…100 movies that has been such the talk for the last few years. Mr. Shickel knows his material and his star, the commentary is very insigtful and informative. He does state the obvious a few times, but it’s to be expected. I’d have liked to hear what Mr. Eastwood would have to say about his Oscar Winning effort here, but this is the next best thing.

The second disc features three featurettes and a rather lengthy documentary, the first is “All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger” which is a new featurette complete with new interviews with the cast. Amazing how much some of them have aged in a short ten year span. This is rather bland in my honest opinion, but it focuses on the writing and some people love that. More of a look back and there’s really no new information presented here. Next up is “Eastwood…A Star” which is a 15 minute recap of Eastwood’s past films, starting from his early days back at Unviersal studios. Speaking of older roles, there is also a full-length episode of “Maverick” in which Eastwood plays virtually a younger role of Willam Munny. An odd inclusion, but interesting none the less. “Eastwood & Co.: The Making of Unforgiven” is a 25 minute featurette that has a lot of footage from the set, home video footage that was shot by Eastwood’s wife. The occasional crack up, mess up and all sorts of other goodies make this a rather funny feature to watch, but yet informative at the same time. Lastly, we have a 105 minute documentary, narrated by John Cusack, entitled “Eastwood on Eastwood” in which he is directly interviewed by Richard Shickel. This recounts his past film roles and doesn’t give all the fluff that is usually associated with something like this. At 105 minutes, it’s nearly as long as the film itself, but it’s worth every minute. A theatrical trailer is also included as are some text-based screens that lists the film’s awards. On the whole, it’s an easy recommendation and if you own the current version, you’ll have to upgrade to v 2.0. Highly recommended.

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