Plot: What’s it about?
Unforgiven, a multi-award winning film directed by Clint Eastwood, is a gripping story about the pointlessness of violence. However, what amazed me is what I discovered concerning Eastwood in the Filmmakers Bios. Beginning in 1971 with Play Misty for me, Eastwood both starred in and directed most of his films. As of 1998, his director credits totaled twenty out of his career total of forty one films, just short of half of the films he has ever made. In addition, seventeen of those twenty, included him in the starring role as well as the directorÃ†s chair, marking him as a very driven artist. He even dedicated Unforgiven to both Sergio Leone and Don Siegel in an appreciative nod to them for bringing him into the industry.
The story starts out with a couple of cowboys in the tiny town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming, having themselves a good time at a Billiards Parlor (thereÃ†s not a pool table in the entire town, if you get my drift). One of the cowboys is insulted by the girl he is with, although it is unintentional on her part, and he assaults her with a knife across the face several times before his partner can stop him. Her permanent disfigurement effectively puts her out of work and the other girls take out a bounty on the two cowboys. Before long, assassins are coming to the town of Big Whiskey to do them in collect the $1,000 reward.
Gene Hackman does a harrowing job as the violent sheriff known as ‘Lil’ Bill Dagget. A tough sheriff, comparable to Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, he wastes no time in roughing up someone that he dislikes. He even runs a notorious gun fighter named English Bob (Richard Harris) out of town, but only after nearly beating him to death. The biographer, W.W. Beauchamp, who is traveling with English Bob even stays behind in Big Whiskey because he finds Lil Bill a much more interesting subject. (Saul Rubinek does a masterful job of portraying a man completely out of his element in the old west.)
While all of this is happening, a retired thief and killer of notorious disposition named William Munny (Eastwood) is approached by a young kid called The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), a name he was given because of the Schofield model Smith & Wesson revolver he carries, to go after the cowboys and collect the money. Since MunnyÃ†s wife is passed on for two years and he now has two children to look out for, he eventually decides to pitch in with the kid. But not without his old partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), who really knows just how mean and cold-blooded Munny can be. The three of them then begin a mission that will change all of their lives.
Unforgiven is one of my favorite movies of all time. It sits up there a couples of levels below Saving Private Ryan and Heat, but way above the multitude of others. Several of my all-time favorite movie lines are also from this movie, such as when Munny tells the Schofield Kid, We all got it cominÃ† kid or I just donÃ†t wanna get killed for lack of shootinÃ† back when a one-armed deputy is asked why he has three guns for a confrontation with English Bob. The point behind Unforgiven is just the opposite of most action movies on the market, which is that it take a lot out of the survivor to kill someone and that it permanently takes everything away from the fallen. But mostly it shows that there is a lot more to killing someone that just pulling a trigger and makes the viewer think about that. For that reason alone, this movie has my highest regards.
Now for the bad news. Unfortunately, the video transfer for this DVD could have been infinitely better. It is grainy at times and not as sharp as most DVDs out on the market today. I watched approximately the first half-hour or so on the Pan & Scan version and found it of VHS quality. When I flipped the disc over to the Widescreen side, there was a noticeable difference, but it still was not up to par with most DVDs. Of all things, I would say the picture is the biggest disappointment concerning this DVD.
Not to say that the sound is wonderful. I had hoped that the guys re-mastering the sound into Dolby 5.1 would take advantage of the thunderstorms that crop up sporadically. Or the rifle shots that send bullets whizzing over the viewersÃ† heads. But, alas, no. The sound mix is barely noticeably better than a Pro-Logic edition found on a VHS tape. I almost wanted to cry at the lost opportunities for ear-popping sound effects that I found available throughout this movie. Perhaps Clint will see to it that there is a Special Edition that corrects all of this.
(I know, I know, EditorÃ†s Note: DonÃ†t hold my breath). [Editor’s Note: It’s like you’re readin’ my mind, man…] The Special Features consist of Production Notes, Cast & Film-makers Bios, Languages, and Subtitles. The Bios and Production Notes are definitely work a look. (This is where I discovered how many of his own films Eastwood has directed.)
Overall, I expected a better treatment from the studio for a Best Picture Oscar-winner like Unforgiven. If you can live with a picture quality and sound mix slightly better than VHS and Pro-Logic, I would highly recommend adding this DVD to your collection. The story alone is well worth the investment. But if you are restricting your collection to reference quality editions, you may well want to pass this one by. Personally, I will eventually add it to my shelf. For such a quality story, I can forgive a few technological shortcomings. I mean, what if we tried to hold Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Gone With The Wind up to the same techno-standards as The Matrix?
Video: How does it look?
Barely above VHS quality. The picture is clearer and sharper than VHS, with more vibrant colors, but still not up to reference material quality. A bit disappointing, but it does not ruin the movie for the viewer.
Audio: How does it sound?
Again, barely above Pro-Logic quality. Not too much of a workout for the subwoofer or rear speakers with this movie. There were several opportunities for great surround and subwoofer effects with thunderstorms and rifle shots whizzing around during the movie, but the sound engineers fell short of capturing them. Still, it would probably be only something a real DVD enthusiast would notice.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A few extras here, definitely worth a look. Production Notes and Cast Bios of the major players in the movie as well as Eastwood, subtitles and languages.