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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Existentialism > Unforgiven (1992/HD-DVD)

Unforgiven (1992/HD-DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B



It was a low point in Clint Eastwood’s career.  He was a known quantity as a director, but also still a big star going back and forth between the films he wanted to make and what he and Warner Bros. considered more commercial projects.  When those money-aimed films started to bomb critically and commercially, many thought Eastwood had finally run out of steam.  Even Warner Bros. was not too optimistic when the released Unforgiven in August of 1992.  It was a Western, still considered a genre on the ropes, and he had not had a hit in years.  The theatrical film posters were an uncharacteristically small run.  When the film became a huge comeback, they became instant collectibles.


The film involved old cowboy outlaws in the twilight of his days (Eastwood and Morgan Freeman) who think it might be the end of their story, but the outrageous mutilation of a hooker in town and other building outrages cause William Munny (Eastwood) to come out of retirement begrudgingly to counter it.  In his absence, a merciless, deadly new power has risen in the town, led by the cold-blooded new head of “law and order” (Gene Hackman) who strikes out at all in his way.  This includes a washed up cowboy hitman (Richard Harris) who is an alcoholic and still pro-British!


Instead of the usual Revenge Western formula, the film examines the nature of violence, regret, lost life and lost time.  It was hailed as Eastwood denouncing violence, but in reality, the screenplay by David Webb Peoples actually examines its ambiguity and the conclusion of the film offers no simple answers.  As a matter of fact, what it does say is so chilling about the world we liver in that most people have missed it all these years later.  The performances are top rate and it became an instant genre classic.


As far as Eastwood was concerned, his iconic status was restored and a new era had begun.  This was some of Harris’ last great work, while Hackman showed he was still one of the best actors alive and Freeman once again proved he could he could hold his own against the best.  Sal Rubinek and Frances Fisher are also very effective in their supporting roles.  Eastwood learned much of his directing skills from Sergio Leone and the underrated Don Siegel.  Here, he pulled it all together like never before.


The 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition 1080p image is here much darker than it should be, losing depth and detail as a result.  Since this film has amazing anamorphically shot Panavision scope cinematography by Jack N. Green, this should have been a home run for picture.  As a matter of fact, Eastwood complained about the “band-aid vision” of the film letterboxed on the old 12” LaserDisc format and even VHS versions, enjoying the idea that standard DVD improved the picture through its anamorphic enhancement feature.  As a matter of fact, when Toshiba introduced its first 16 X 9 TVs, this title was available in a special 12” anamorphic LaserDisc that you could play on the new sets to see the picture improvements when you bought one of the new TVs.  This HD-DVD still has its moments, but just disappoints throughout.


The film was originally issued theatrically in Dolby’s great analog Spectral Recording (SR) system and was later remixed for 5.1 in standard Dolby Digital for standard DVD.  Warner has even upgraded Eastwood’s monophonic films for 5.1 for the most part, but working with this well-recorded SR material, the remix is pretty good.  Form the sound effects, to the soundfield to the score by Lennie Niehaus, this remix does not loose as much of the SR smoothness as many other SR-to-5.1 upgrades have.  With a focus on quiet moments and attempt for a sound of the authentic West, the sound has good character to boot.


Extras include four featurettes, two of which are more specifically about Eastwood, the original theatrical trailer, the original Maverick episode Duel At Sundown (1959, in standard definition 1.33 X 1 with Dolby Digital 1.0) starring Eastwood and another exceptional audio commentary by critic and film scholar Richard Schickel thought the film.  There is more to say about the film, but these extras still cover much ground.  Eastwood first found major big screen success in Leone’s Techniscope “spaghetti westerns”, so returning to the wide frame at his own hand and pull this off at the time he did has a profound meaning so cinematically significant about the cinematic space he will always occupy, that Unforgiven is guaranteed to be a milestone on that cinematic road for good.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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