Twenty five 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 by the American Film Institute, Unforgiven is a throwback to the great Westerns that Eastwood himself helped make popular.
Video: How does it look?
Warner didn’t announce this via press release. Rather I received an email from them saying that this movie was en route and it was the 4K version. It arrived and I emailed them back asking if this was simply an up-converted Blu-ray or if any restoration work had been done.
“The original camera negative was scanned at Warner Bros. Motion Picture imaging in 4K, and the new master was color-corrected, graded, cleaned, and completed in the 4K domain. True 4K all the way, with HDR.”
Ok, that’s what I like to see! I don’t know why they wouldn’t promote this, but that’s straight from Warner.
Moving onto the Ultra HD, it is immediately noticeable that the movie has been given a facelift. The film has a sleeker appearance, shadows seem darker and stronger and the overall print seems much cleaner than in previous versions. Being a Western, there are some scenes in which the HDR really does strut its stuff. Reds and browns seem richer and deeper and the stark contrast in some scenes seems to stand out more. HDR might not make a difference in some films, but in this one – I felt it. Detail has also been improved which in a movie full of aging actors might not be the best thing! The Blu-ray has also been given a new re-master, but when compared to the 4K version, you’ll never watch it.
Audio: How does it sound?
Also new is a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. The previous Blu-ray “Digibook” edition contained only a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This ups the ante a bit and it too is noticeable in some early scenes. 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. This isn’t a night and day difference, but it’s noticeable enough to warrant them having done it.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The only down side to this new edition is that the same supplements (which are nearly 15 years old now) are on the disc. If you’ve somehow missed the previous editions, then you’re in for a treat – otherwise, there’s nothing new here.
Audio Commentary – Time magazine film critic and Eastwood biographer, Richard Shickel gives an informative commentary. Mr. Shickel is also one of the people who coordinated with the American Film Institute and wrote the American Film Institute’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 insightful 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.
All on Accounta Pullin’ the Trigger – A featurette complete with new interviews with the cast. Amazing how much some of them have aged in a short 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.
Eastwood & Co.: Making Unforgiven – 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.
Eastwood…A Star – A 15 minute recap of Eastwood’s past films, starting from his early days back at Universal studios.
Eastwood on Eastwood – 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.
Classic Maverick episode Duel at Sundown – A full-length episode of Maverick in which Eastwood plays virtually a younger role of Willam Munny.
The Bottom Line
Unforgiven is likely Eastwood’s last Western, but what a note to go out on. It’s widely considered one of the better Western’s out there and sports a great cast, story and was the winner of Best Picture and three other Oscars. It was an unexpected treat to get this on Ultra HD, so let’s hope Warner keeps that trend up as this one is a keeper.