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Warner Home Video presents
Unforgiven HD-DVD (1992)

"Hell, Will, we ain't bad men no more."
- Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 15, 2006

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
Other Stars: Jaimz Woolvett, Saal Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Anna Levine, David Mucci, Rob Campbell, Anthony James
Director: Clint Eastwood

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for Language and violence and a scene of sexuality
Run Time: 02h:10m:53s
Release Date: May 16, 2006
UPC: 012569809482
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B+ A

DVD Review

Clint Eastwood has long been intimately associated with the Western genre, from Rawhide to Sergio Leone to his own films. Unforgiven not only marks a high point in his career in the genre, but stands thus far as the Last Great Western and an apotheosis of the Western, deconstructing it and reinforcing it at the same time. Helped by a terrific script and a stellar cast, Eastwood was quite deserving of both the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for 1992.

Long-retired outlaw Will Munny (Eastwood), turned family man and pig farmer, is lured back behind the gun by the promise of a thousand-dollar bounty on the heads of two men, Quick Mike (David Mucci) and Davey Bunting (Rob Campbell), who carved up the face of a prostitute, Delilah (Anna Levine) in Big Whiskey, Wyoming. Heading there with longtime partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and wannabe killer The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), Will battles with his conscience and the knowledge that he is betraying his promises to his dead wife Claudia, trying to get the nerve back to kill a man again. But that's not their only problem: there's also competition for the bounty in the person of hired railroad killer English Bob (Richard Harris), and Big Whiskey's sheriff, sadistic Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) is determined not to let his town become the scene of murder for hire, and will stop at little to prevent it.

One of the central themes of the film is the depth and impact of corruption. Munny, tormented by his past, is stricken by fear and illness over his return to killing. His friend, Ned, is more willing to go along at first, but when it comes down to the matter, finds himself unable to pull the trigger. The Schofield Kid, on the other hand, welcomes his corruption, though he proves incompetent in doing so. Daggett, at first seeming rather sympathetic with his concern for the town and his quaint pride at his hand-made cottage, is soon revealed to have a viciously brutal streak that makes him less of a lawman and more of an enforcer. The only character who seems to wear the reputation well is English Bob, and even he is somewhat ridiculous, bringing with him his biographer, W.W. Beauchamp (Saal Rubinek), who helps create his image, if not a mythology, through blood-and-thunder pulp stories. Intriguingly, Daggett not only punctures the expectations of Beauchamp and English Bob's mythology, but then adopts the biographer as his own and begins setting up his own legend. One can only guess that Beauchamp will go on to write legends about Will Munny after the credits roll.

There's lot of cynicsm here too, especially on Daggett's part, and an unrelenting bleakness. Clearly part of that cynicism is fed by a diet of blood, since The Schofield Kid, Beauchamp and the prostitutes, who aren't really killers, are the ones most enthusiastic about the violence of the West. One might compare this to a fondness for warfare by those who have remained safely behind the lines, manipulating others to do their dirty work for them. As each of them comes into closer contact with the violent world of the outlaw, they in turn find themselves repelled to varying degrees (though even at the end Beauchamp still is more than willing to feed on the legends of the West).

The casting is terrific, with Eastwood at about the end of his ability to play such a role convincingly. His age allows for a deadening weariness and misery to permeate his portrayal of Munny, while he's still just young and athletic enough to be credible. Hackman is completely intense as Daggett, even when he's being jovial about the rain leaking through his roof. His ability to turn to vicious brutality on a moment's notice, administering beatings, whippings and homicide as he deems necessary or convenient, gives Daggett an indelible character of the maniac hiding behind a badge. Freeman's quiet dignity lends a noble air to his role as Munny's only friend. Harris is hugely enjoyable as the braggadocio, although he disappears from the story all too soon. There's nothing here to dislike, though the violence can be hard to take at times (though Eastwood provides a helping of solid comic relief that truly serves the relief function). Interestingly, it's not the climactic gunfight that is so difficult, but the acts of Daggett and others leading up to that finality. The conclusion can only be read as a necessary expiation of the brutality that has gone before, a cleansing of the slate before the West can truly move on to be civilized.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1080p widescreen transfer in most respects is excellent, which is welcome after the rather shabby treatment this film received on its original DVD release. There is excellent detail and texture, and the gorgeous cinematographyby Jack Green, especially of the scenery, is frequently stunning. Enormous amounts of picture are in sharp focus, and there are fine delineations of color, emphasizing the visual character of the picture. Skin tones seem a little reddish at times. The major issue is that high contrast moments sometimes betray ringing, whether from edge enhancement or as compression artifacts. Had a little more care been given to this aspect of the presentation this would be marvelous. As it is, it's still well above either SD presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Dolby Digital+ 5.1 tracks are presented in English, French and Spanish. The English track has some terrific moments, mostly in the rain-drenched sequences that leave the listener feeling downright soggy. It's very atmospheric. There's excellent presence, and the gun blasts have nice oomph in the low end of the audio range. The audio track does have the lowered volume levels that seem to be persistent on Warner's first titles. The audio is quite clean, however, so one can turn the volume up without incurring other issues.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by biographer Richard Schickel
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Maverick episode
Extras Review: All of the extras from the recent two-disc SE are ported over to the HD DVD, though in 480p rather than HD. First up is a full-length commentary by Richard Schickel, biographer of Eastwood, who gives an interesting talk and clearly enjoys the movie as well as indulging in analysis. There are a few dead spots but on the whole Schickel does a good job of illuminating the text. Four documentaries look at the film and its director. The most substantial is a 1997 TNT production, Eastwood on Eastwood (68m:30s), which takes a long look at his career in film. Narrated by John Cusack, it includes plenty of interview materials with Eastwood and a ton of clips that make the viewer want to check out more of his work. It's quite well done, though it renders a second documentary on Eastwood (16m:06) rather redundant. More interesting are a Making Of presentation (23m:51s) with a fair amount of on-stage footage, and a later retrospective on the film (22m:30s) that is a bit too clip-heavy to be highly recommended. Fans of Eastwood will be interested in seeing one of his very first substantial Western roles, a 1958 episode of Maverick in which he plays a jealous rival of James Garner intent on a gunfight. Finally, there's a trailer presented in about 2.00:1 format. It's a thorough (if not excessive) package, and there's little more one could imagine wanting to be included other than an isolated score.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Still one of the best Westerns ever made, it's a brutal examination of character and corruption, beautifully photographed and truly moving. The cast is top-notch and the HD transfer is for the most part beautiful, despite having moments of edge ringing.

 


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