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Unforgiven (1992) Blu-ray

Unforgiven (1992) Blu-ray Review. A fitting tribute to the remarkable career of Clint Eastwood.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman
Studio: Warner Home Video
Production Year: 1992
Media Year: 2006
Rated: R
Runtime: 133 minutes


“It’s one thing, killing a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever going to have.”
“Yeah, well, I guess he had it coming.”

It’s one of the film’s most memorable scenes, in which “The Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) discovers what it’s like to commit murder. His mentor, William Munny (Clint Eastwood), encapsulates the film’s recurring theme of regret in his follwing line:

“We all got it coming, kid.”

Unforgiven opens with a desolate prairie home silhouetted against a sunset, where a lone figure is digging. Narrative text explains the figure is outlaw William Munny, burying his wife who died of smallpox. The mournful theme music playing in the background was actually composed for the movie by Eastwood himself - the piece is the first and last thing you’ll hear in the film, and will haunt you long after the movie is over.

It’s the 1880s, and the opening scene’s sunset could be symbolic of the sun setting on the glory days of the Old West. It’s a time when an eccentric gunfighter like English Bob (James Harris) travels with his own biographer, the timid writer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). A sadistic sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) of Big Whiskey Wyoming, is a gun-control freak, forbidding anyone to carry a weapon on his watch. Prostitutes will fight for equal considerations under the law, and are willing to pay for revenge.William Munny is a reformed killer turned unsuccessful pig farmer. Raising two children during hard times, the offer of one last contract from an over-eager Schofield Kid is tempting. Despite his apparent reformation, he decides to accept.

Desperate to make a name for himself as a gunfighter, the Kid is more innocent than he lets on – as backup, Munny insists they recruit his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), also a retired hit man turned farmer.

The three collide with the town of Big Whiskey and its cruel sheriff. The result is Unforgiven, a classic that won four academy awards. Screenwriter David Webb Peoples insists he didn’t set out to write the “revisionist western” as an anti-violence movie, but the film’s messages about violence and gunplay are powerful and clear.

Munny is not the gun-toting action hero of Eastwood’s past films. He’s a killer haunted by his past. There is no black and white sense of morality.

For the cost of a modest lunch, you can own this classic in high definition on Blu-ray or HD DVD.

Video Anamorphic 2.40:1, Color

Considering this film was originally released in 1992, the video is excellent in HD. It lacks the polish of a newer film just released to Blu-ray, but this classic film received the attention to detail it deserved, lovingly transferred to BD-50/1080P on VC-1. The great thing about these newer westerns (and I hope an HD version of Dances with Wolves is on the horizon) are the panoramic outdoor shots.

Widescreen images showing us the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming are a sight to behold. Distant details are revealed among its vistas, giving this quality film an added dimension seldom seen even in theaters. This is one of the rare times I’d actually recommend double dipping and buying this film in an HD format if you already own on the standard definition DVD.

The sweeping landscapes of Wyoming are actually in Alberta, Canada, just outside of Calgary. The variation in landscape ranges from broken badlands, snowcapped mountains to endless prairie. Even the weather is suspiciously unstable throughout the film. Many scenes in town take place in the midst of a torrential downpour. Later we’ll see outdoor scenes with a solid, virgin-white snow covering. Then back to town again for persistent rainstorms. Perhaps unpredictable weather was just another hurdle endured by the pioneers of the Old West. Or maybe Unforgiven’s environmental variation was intended to provide a more cinematic visual experience.

Indoor scenes are not as kind to the high definition format. Key scenes take place indoors under the flicker of candle and lamplight, and the severe economy of light limits the color palette but lends to the mood. In one scene Clint Eastwood sits alone at a table, apparently suffering a terrible flu. - It could have come across horribly overblown if the lighting were unrealistically Hollywood. But seeing him huddled behind his upturned collar, sunken beneath the weight of his hat, a nearby lamp castsflickering shadows imparts a sense of urgency to his condition.

Sound English Dolby Digital 5.1 / 2.0 (also French, Spanish)

English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround is encoded at 640kbps. The surround mix is subdued and only a few scenes will provide echo or directional effects. Nothing in this soundtrack is going to make you jump out of your seat, and this isn’t the disc you’ll use to show off your surround system’s abilities.

However, I found the soundtrack suited the material. Despite being a western with its share of gunplay, this isn’t an action film – the most dramatic scenes are dialogue-driven. In these scenes, I appreciated the soundtrack’s subtleties.

The music Clint himself composed gently makes its way into some of the most memorable scenes, with the closing scene of the film resonating as particularly haunting. I was so absorbed by the closing scene I forgot I was watching a movie, and could only think about what might have become of Munny and his kids. The 640kbps audio was detailed and noise-free.

Special Features

Overall, the special features list is much deeper than the DVD release of Unforgiven. Its documentaries included the usual self-congratulatory exercises, in which everyone involved in making the film puts on a happy face and strokes each other’s egos. But this list of special features does have a couple of real gems:

Commentary by Richard Schickel

It’s disappointing that nobody associated with the movie appears in the commentary track. Apparently Mr. Eastwood himself doesn’t do commentaries, so Richard Schickel steps in and introduces himself as Eastwood’s biographer and friend. He certainly knows enough about the movie, and Clint. I admit to not having listened to the entire commentary track, but I flipped to key scenes to see what Mr. Schickel had to say. While providing some insights he speaks a lot of Eastwood’s career, and covers philosophical aspects of the movie. Many of these observations are covered in the documentary entitled “All on Accounta’ Pullin’ a Trigger”.

Eastwood. A Star (1992) Runtime - 16 minutes:

This documentary explores Eastwood’s career in the context of having just made Unforgiven. It drives home the point that Unforgiven represents a sort of philosophical conclusion to his career in westerns. There is a subtext in Unforgiven that perhaps Munny is the embodiment of Eastwood’s Man With No Name character created by his former director Segio Leone.

It’s from this documentary we learn Eastwood credited Unforgiven’s style to the directorial influences of both Don Siegle and Sergio Leone. Both men died not long before Unforgiven was made.

Eastwood on Eastwood (1997) Runtime – 68 minutes:

“His deadliest weapons have always been irony, silence and surpassing cool…”

Narrated by actor John Cusack, this documentary chronologically covers Eastwood’s remarkable career. It starts with a humorous assembly of takes depicting classic scenes from Eastwood movies. The documentary is long, but of good quality. This is easily the best documentary on the disc. You’ll get in-depth examinations of all things Eastwood, from his Dirty Harry character to his favorite Jazz musician.

The best thing about this documentary is the amount of time Eastwood himself spends giving his own observations on various points in his career. It’s simply a must-see, not just for an Eastwood fan but for fans of any film in the last thirty years.

Eastwood and Co. – Making Unforgiven

Despite being narrated by Hal Holbrook, this is definitely the most forgettable documentary. It’s got everything you get in a typical docu-special-movie-feature, including behind-the-scenes set shots of actors laughing and generally clowning around. You might say it over-dramatizes the degree to which Eastwood sought realism on his set.

It’s interesting, Eastwood didn’t allow motor vehicles anywhere near the set of Big Whiskey - but I was able to say that in only 14 words, an efficiency this documentary lacked.

All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger (2002) Runtime – 22 minutes:

This documentary includes interviews with Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Unforgiven’s writer David Webb Peoples and film editor Joel Cox. It delves a little deeper than your average “making-of” feature, and provides more about the meaning of the film and its many characters in the words of the actors.

As mentioned earlier, during one of his extensive interviews, screenwriter David Webb Peoples states that it wasn’t his intention to make an anti-violence film. If you believe that, Unforgiven was an abysmal failure because they made a great anti-violence picture.

I think what Peoples meant is that he didn’t intend to (nor intend his screenplay to) clobber the viewer over the head with a message. Instead the film drives its point home through skillful storytelling and its philosophical ambiguity. It’s a brilliant, classic film - but don’t tell me it’s not a post-revisionist-western that explores a modern take on morality using the Old West as a vehicle. I guess when you see all these documentaries back to back, you hear the same message repeated over and over and it begins to sound pretentious.

Duel at Sundown: Maverick TV Episode

Are you a big fan of the old Maverick TV show? Me neither. But this black and white episode is remarkably restored and shows us a fresh young Clint Eastwood creating the template for the character actor he would strive to be.

Eastwood has expressed affection for his work with James Garner. Although I’m no fan of these old shows, it’s a nice touch to see the inclusion of an entire episode on the Blu-ray disc. It shows Warner wanted to take full advantage of the massive storage capability of a 50GB Blu-ray disc.

Overall: If you’re a fan of Eastwood or westerns in general, this is an instant classic. Even if you already own it on DVD, this is one of the rare exceptions where I would personally recommend upgrading to the Blu-ray. Unforgiven is also available on HD DVD with the same loving transfer to VC-1. The importance of this film as a storybook ending to Eastwood’s career as the strong but silent tough guy of the Old West cannot be overstated. Unforgiven proves Eastwood’s veritable template of masculinity in the Man With No Name has matured and grown wiser with age.

This review is written in dedication to my father, Wayne Robson who introduced me to Westerns and a love of film. He’s always been for my family a template of Eastwood-like ruggedness and silent perseverance, he’s also grown wise with age.

Wayde is offline  


1992 , bluray , unforgiven

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