Unforgiven [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Shane Roberts & Noor Razzak (19th May 2009).
The Film

William 'Bill' Munny (Clint Eastwood), once a ‘gun for hire’, has spent the last ten years starting a family and running his farm. With his wife having died and the farm failing, he’s lured out of retirement by a young gunfighter The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) and his offer to collect a bounty posted by a group of prostitutes in the town of Big Whiskey by killing a cowboy who beat and cut one of them. Arriving in town along with his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) they clash with Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) the brutal sheriff who is determined that no hired gun will collect the reward.

Clint Eastwood’s roles in westerns have defined his career and the genre since 1964’s "A Fistful of Dollars" began a string of nine films that by the release of "The Outlaw Josie Wales" in 1976 saw him arguably replace John Wayne as the icon of the genre. During the next 15 years he only made one more (1985’s "Pale Rider" – an entertaining if old-fashioned cross between "Shane" (1953) and "High Plains Drifter" (1973)) as he wasn’t interested unless there was something original to add to the mythology. He found it in David Webb People’s script for what was originally called "The Cut Whore Killings", a bleak but gripping, morally ambiguous look at more how the west really was rather than the clear cut view of the traditional Hollywood releases. There are no purely righteous heroes or purely evil villains. Will Munny and Ned Logan are referred to as retired killers rather than gunfighters with Will admitting to being “a killer of women and children” in his old life while Sheriff Daggett is just trying to maintain law and order in his town but too often loses control and is extreme in his enforcement of justice.

Even with his two most famous roles, The Man With No Name, and Dirty Harry Callahan being anti heroes, Clint taking the role of Munny, once ruthless killer and now disillusioned farmer, is at first glance surprising but within a few scenes it’s obvious he’s the perfect choice. Munny could easily be an older Man With No Name or especially Josie Wales just as Walt Kowalski in "Gran Turino" (2008) could be the retired Harry Callahan or Sergeant Highway from "Heartbreak Ridge" 1986). It was his first Oscar-worthy performance and lead to more serious roles in such films as "The Bridges of Madison County" (1995) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), and he fully deserved his nomination and was unlucky to lose out to Tom Hanks for "Philadelphia" (1993).

Gene Hackman did win an Oscar for 'Best Supporting Actor'. It was his second Oscar after the one he picked up for "The French Connection" (1971) as 'Best Actor' and it was fitting because these are probably his two best performances. Showing just how atypical Daggett is to the usual sheriff as a hero there’s great tension every time he appears because he’s so unpredictable. Even the townspeople are scared of him and dare not question the man who’s meant to be working for them. Richard Harris as English Bob, the colourful and arrogant gunslinger who has a glamorous and possibly completely fabricated reputation, typically steals every scene he’s in except his last one where he meets Sheriff Daggett.

The only performance I found unconvincing was Morgan Freeman’s. He’s a fantastic actor but I just can’t believe he was ever a cold blooded killer because, like Clint, he brings with him his screen image from other films and while Clint has often played violent men Freeman, as far as I can remember, has only ever played one outright villain and that was his breakout role as the murderous pimp in 1985’s "Street Smart". The rest of the time he’s been the nice old Morgan Freeman we all love.

Clint has been quoted as saying that he wanted to bury the western with "Unforgiven" and while he more than likely meant it as far as his career was concerned he’s affected the entire genre as well. While there have been some great westerns since, like "Tombstone" (1993), "Open Range" (2003) and "3:10 To Yuma" (2007), they’ve all reverted to the more traditional style and apart from the "Deadwood" (2004-2006) TV series they seem like a bit of a step back. Clint’s defined the genre again with a true classic.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 presented in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and mastered using VC-1 compression codec. The image comes mastered in HD with a near pristine look preserving the aesthetic and grand scope of the film. It's natural photography shows off the countryside and brilliant rugged and dirty sets with spot on detail and texture. Close-ups look solid with fine detail and wide shots are stunning with rich colors that show off the landscape. Sharpness is solid for a film that's now 17 years old. There are some flaws, the image isn't entirely perfect, there's some noise amid the blacks, some softness can be seen and there were a few instances of halos and edge-enhancement. These hold back the transfer from being excellent and it's a wonder why Warner's didn't undertake a complete remastering for this HD release, the film certainly deserves it. Otherwise it'll do until the 20th Anniversary in a few years time where I hope the title will be revisited.

Audio

Three standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks are included here in English, French or Spanish. Again I'm faced with another Warner catalogue title that has not been given a proper HD audio track, if anything this film screams of it, I can only imagine how much more depth and range this track could have had if it was in DTS-HD, TrueHD or PCM uncompressed. The film is made up of a predominantly subtle and minimal soundtrack with focus on dialogue and the beautiful score, but there's enough ambient sound that adds to the overall immersive quality as well. The standard Dolby Digital track was good enough for DVD and presents these elements well, however for Blu-ray it's a disappointment. Step up Warner Brothers and let's start including more HD audio tracks on catalogue titles.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Warner Brothers has included some nice extras on this disc that include an audio commentary, a documentary, three featurettes, an original TV episode and the film's original theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the feature-length audio commentary by film critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel. I've always liked Schickel's commentaries even though they can be a bit dry at times, he manages to pack a ton of material into the tracks and provides an incredible insight into Eastwood's working technique as a director as well as an actor. He comments on Eastwood's vision and history in Western filmmaking as well as some history surrounding the era, he delves into the background of the production and also comments on the themes, tone and purpose of the film among other things. It's an intelligent and thoughtful commentary that film fans will likely eat up. This track is definitely recommended.

"Eastwood on Eastwood" is the documentary on this disc and runs for 68 minutes 30 seconds. This is an excellent feature directed by film critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, it's an excellent companion to the commentary. The feature chronicles Eastwood's career from his early days as a bit player for studios, his TV work and then branching out into Spaghetti Westerns which launched his career and beyond into the star and filmmaker. The feature includes some insightful interviews with the actor/director himself. There's plenty of incredible footage and photographs in this documentary and provides a rounded and near-complete archive of this American legend's career.

Next up is "All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger" which is a production featurette that runs for 22 minutes 30 seconds, this clip was produced in 2002 for the DVD release and features interviews with the key cast and crew and basically covers the basics of the production, story, themes, characters, etc. There's the usual amount of talking head interviews and clips from the film as well. It's basic and worth watching at least once but definitely not the strongest extra of the lot.

"The 1992 Eastwood & Co. Making 'Unforgiven'" is the original making-of featurette that runs for 23 minutes 51 seconds and is the usual EPK promotional clip that is used to promote the film, but does feature a lot of really great behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the film and some more interviews.

"The 1992 'Eastwood… A Star'" is the final featurette which runs for 16 minutes 6 seconds is a studio produced vanity piece about how great Clint is... do we really need this? Surely his films speak for themselves? It's an unnecessary feature and doesn't warrant repeated viewing.

Also featured on the disc is the classic "Maverick" episode "Duel at Sundown" which features a young Eastwood, the episode runs for 49 minutes 4 seconds and is a pretty good episode but only interesting for true Eastwood fans as a curiosity.

Rounding out the extras on this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 57 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B

 


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