(Clint Eastwood - 1992)
The Score Card
The Movie : 9
Unforgiven appears to have been Clint Eastwood's last word on the Western, though certainly not on the subject of killing and dying. Eastwood plays a once very bad man, a drunk and a killer, rehabilitated by his young wife, Claudia, some 12 years before the movie begins. Since her death many years ago, Will Munny has retired into the life of hog rancher and single father to his two children. He hasn't touched a gun, nor liquor, nor hardly a horse for riding in all that time. In saunters the self-named "Schofield Kid" with a timely proposition to kill a couple of no-good cowboys who cut up a whore in Big Whiskey, Wyoming. Her fellow whores have put up $1000 for the contract. It's a timely offer, since Munny has not been what you would call a raging success at farming. Eastwood, as Munny, has never played a man so at the bottom of the food chain, so barely competent. He's a likely to fall off his horse as not, and he can't hit a target with anything short of a shotgun. He enlists the aid of his old partner in bedlam, Ned Logan (played with his usual sagacity by Morgan Freeman). Will and Ned follow on after the Kid (played nervously by Canadian actor, Jaimz Woolvet).
The action takes place in 1880 when the American West was well on its way to civilizing itself. The day of the gunfighter was drawing to a close. Such men were either dead or, in many cases, had removed themselves to the other side of a badge, as in the case of Unforgiven's Little Bill Daggett. Wild Bill Hickock had been shot in the back in Deadwood in 1876. Wyatt Earp left Dodge City two years later. The Earp brothers' showdown with the Clantons and the McLaurys was only a year off, the same year that Billy the Kid was to meet his fatal bullet.
It's interesting watching this trio, each in their own stage of development vis-à-vis the killing business. Ned had long ago made his separate peace, and is only coming along out of friendship. Will claims he has reformed, but clearly he is still trying to convince himself by saying all too often how his wife cured him of his murderous ways. The Kid is a wanna-be Will Munny. As they close in on their targets, questions about their past and the ethics of killing emerge. When it happens, the dying takes its time. None of this: get shot, fall to the ground, end of story, so characteristic of of t he genre.
If you don't have a good script to start with, it's pretty much impossible to make a good movie – a pretty one, yes, but a good one, not a chance. I was a little surprised that David Webb Peoples was passed over for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in favor of Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (not that Jordan's work wasn't first rate). It was just that the time and place was so evocative in Unforgiven, largely because of the language, reminiscent of those Civil War letters we heard on Ken Burns' 1990 PBS series.
Image : 9.5
Warner's 2002 Two-Disc Special Edition SD had a mighty fine image to begin with, and it appears to be the source for this high definition transfer. Everything has a luminosity that is Blu-ray's strong suit: even the dark areas, which abide in this film in its many interior shots, are alive. Leather, either on the horse or of it, has an organic presence that was merely suggested in the SD. Faces teem with expression – which is especially important, since so much is felt by the actor rather than shown. Gene Hackman, who plays the town's sadistic sheriff, Little Bill Daggett, is a study in calm even as he kicks the living hell out of English Bob. Hackman received a deserving Oscar for his supporting role here largely because of that reserve for which he can always be counted.
Audio & Music : 9/9
There is nothing earth-shaking about the soundtrack. Often, it's a quiet guitar. The music. Mostly by Lennie Niehaus (and one piece by Eastwood himself) is subtle, poetic, and descriptive of the emotional states of the characters.
Empathy : 9
I can see how this film is not to everyone's taste, especially those who have a special fondness for genre. Eastwood's movie is certainly revisionist. More than that, it is perhaps even a kind of penance. Moral clarity is not what is to be found here. The image and soundtrack completely supports that intention. Once we give ourselves to dramatic conversation, this Blu-ray DVD is hard to ignore.
Operations : 7
Quick loading. The Menus are straightforward and easy to use, with slightly expanding, untitled thumbnails for the individual chapters. Downgraded score for failing to take advantage of the BD medium and lifeless thumbnails.
Extras : 9
Lots of supplementary materials here, all drawn from the Special Edition SD. No new extras unique to the hi-def medium. The two best are the work of Time Magazine film critic and Eastwood biographer, Richard Schickel, who provides a running commentary. He was on the set often and so his comments have a perspective other commentators might not. It's an informative essay, if not somewhat lazily told. Schickel also produced the 108 minute, Eastwood on Eastwood, which, unusually for such a TV documentary, eschews the usual panoply of featured actors and friends in favor of a one-on-one interview between the two men, with pertinent footage dramatizing the appropriate moments.
July 22nd, 2007
Enter the Dragon