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Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvett, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Anna Levine
David Webb Peoples

Rated R.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor-Gene Hackman, Best Film Editing. Nominated for Best Actor-Clint Eastwood; Best Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Sound; Best Cinematography.

2-Disc set
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 131 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 9/24/2002

• Audio Commentary With Film Critic Richard Schickel
• “All On Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger” Documentary
• “Eastwood & Co.: Making Unforgiven
• “Eastwood… A Star”
• “Eastwood On Eastwood”
• Classic Maverick Episode “Duel At Sundown”
• “Eastwood Out West”
• Theatrical Trailer
• Awards, Cast and Crew


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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Unforgiven: Special Edition (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

While Silverado revived the western at the box office in the Eighties, Unforgiven solidified its place as an art form. Westerns appeared to reach their modern critical and commercial peak in 1990 when Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves won seven Oscars - including one for Best Picture - and absolutely cleaned up at the box office. Stunningly, this three-hour politically correct oater raked in about $184 million and would have been the biggest hit of 1990 were it not for Home Alone. Not bad for a movie that most pundits mockingly referred to as "Kevin's Gate".

Unforgiven didn't match up to Dances success on either level. With a gross of $101 million, it performed nicely at the box office, and it also won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Both of these seem terrific on their own, but they don’t quite match the prosperity of Costner's epic. Nonetheless, in a way I find Unforgiven's accomplishment to be even more impressive. Granted, Costner's stab appeared riskier, since the film ran almost an hour longer and came during a time when the prospects for westerns still seemed fairly dim. Eastwood had a much better established track record both at the box office and as a director - Dances was Costner's first turn behind the camera - and also as a star of westerns, since he'd made his name on the Sergio Leone "Man With No Name" films.

Nonetheless, Unforgiven's critical and financial success was significant because it proved the earlier hit wasn't a fluke. Dances took people by surprise and received its Oscars more as a reward to an underdog than because Costner deserved it; the film's really quite bloated and insufferably apologetic, and the Academy now looks foolish for giving it the Oscar instead of Scorsese's far superior Goodfellas. Unforgiven, on the other hand, earned its plaudits the hard way; for Eastwood's film to win Best Picture only two years after another western took the prize seems fairly amazing.

I've always maintained a fairly mixed opinion about the movie myself. I didn't see it until after the Oscars, so it had already developed a tremendous critical reputation by that point. In that light, I found it to be disappointing; it seemed fairly compelling but not anything terrifically special. Looking back, it seems that Unforgiven may have won its Best Picture award more because it was a weak year for movies rather than because it possessed any particular artistic merits.

Now that I've seen the film again, I can't say that I've really changed my mind. Don't take that to mean that I don't like Unforgiven; no, I found it to offer a moderately compelling experience. I just fail to see much about it that allows it to rise above the level of other movies.

Unforgiven has received much attention as an "anti-violent" film. In other words, unlike most pictures, the movie actively attempts to make violence seem unglamorous and horrible. In this regard, it succeeds to an extent. The gunfights seem colder and less passionate and exciting than most, but there's something missing that keeps the movie from really creating an aura of nastiness that might make us find violence more distasteful.

Part of this comes from the film's overt intellectualizing of the issue. There's too much talk, not enough rock. Unforgiven could have demonstrated the disgusting results of violence through visualization, but it prefers to have the actors tell us how bad it is. This comes across as moralizing and condescending, as if we need everything explained to us. A few good shots of some of the results of violence would have been enough; they didn't even need to be graphic, as blood and guts don't necessarily create the best arguments.

One other factor that undermines the film’s thesis comes from the movie's conclusion. I won't give it away, but the fate of our hero leaves a lot to be desired. Retired gunslinger William Munny (Eastwood) fought long and hard to shed his wicked ways, but we see him slowly get sucked back into the hatefulness and nastiness he used to display. The consequences of his actions ultimately don't present a satisfying end. Man, it's really hard to discuss this without spoiling the ending, so I guess I'll just have to leave it at that; I just thought the coda didn't quite match the message of the rest of the movie.

Some sketchy character development also made it hard to embrace the film's anti-violence message. For the most part, the folks who get killed in Unforgiven come from the usual assortment of evildoers; we may not applaud their deaths, but we don't find much to mourn either. A few characters present exceptions, but they're depicted so flatly that it's hard to know. Unforgiven may want us to think that violence isn't the answer, but it never presents more viable options.

The film succeeds better as it demonstrates the psychological toll taken by violence, but even that isn't fleshed out completely. Again, the movie's coda undermines that aspect of the picture, though our final visual impressions of Munny himself make a convincingly vivid argument. Nonetheless, the impact of the violence just didn't hit me like I felt it should for the film to achieve its goals.

Despite those flaws, Unforgiven remains a fairly well crafted film that kept my attention. Munny isn't exactly a stretch for Eastwood, but he portrays the gunslinger with an effectively flawed and human quality missing from many of his characters. The supporting cast is top-notch, with stalwarts like Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris along for the ride. Gene Hackman also offers a strong turn as nasty sheriff "Little Bill" Daggett, and he won an Oscar for his efforts. For whatever problems Unforgiven may have, one can't fault the actors.

I admire the ambitions of Unforgiven, since far too many movies really do glamorize violence. I'm not one of those who believes this sexy presentation of unpleasant actions really contributes to violence in the real world and in no way do I seek to censor it in art, but I do like to see evidence that killing and maiming aren't always fun and games. Unfortunately, Unforgiven doesn't totally achieve its goals, so it remains a somewhat haunting and stirring but flawed film.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B+ / Bonus A

Unforgiven appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This disc represents the second DVD version of Unforgiven; the original came out as one of the very first DVDs ever way back in March 1997. I felt that disc’s transfer seemed decent, but it suffered from too many artifacts, largely due to the lack of maturity that came with the format’s infancy. Happily, the new edition of Unforgiven provided a much more satisfying image.

Sharpness appeared virtually immaculate. The picture remained crisp and well defined at all times, as I noticed no problems related to softness even during the film’s many wide shots. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no concerns, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement, which came as a happy surprise; too many Warner Bros. DVDs suffer from that problem, so I felt pleased that Unforgiven lacked that artificial concern.

In addition, the new transfer seemed free from defects. The old one looked reasonably clean, but the re-release omitted even the minor flaws I saw in the original. It also eliminated the annoying digital artifacts that caused the highest level of problems on the old disc; this new one seemed nice and tight.

Colors appeared generally subdued to fit the natural western setting. The hues looked rich and warm throughout the film, and they displayed no signs of bleeding or noise; the tones were vibrant and clear. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but not excessively dense. Both of those elements seemed acceptable on the original DVD, but the new one clearly improved upon them. For example, when I checked out the campfire scene in chapter nine, the re-release provided a noticeably clearer image despite the intensely low-light circumstances. Overall, the new transfer of Unforgiven looked very solid.

The original DVD provided a stark but engaging Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and the audio on the new disc seemed virtually identical. The front soundstage created a nicely broad field of audio, as effects and music blended well across those three channels. Elements meshed nicely and offered good stereo imaging. As for the surrounds, they mostly stayed in the realm of general ambience, but they kicked to life nicely during the appropriate scenes. Thunderstorms gave us natural and involving material, and other sequences also added some involvement. In particular, street scenes created a solid sense of atmosphere. The soundfield remained fairly subdued, but it fit the material.

Audio quality seemed consistently positive. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, with no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded deep and realistic; gunfire crackled nicely and the other ambient sounds seem strong as well. The film used music sparingly but the score appeared clean and smooth at all times, and the whole track boasted gentle but rich bass response. Unforgiven didn’t provide a demo-worthy soundtrack, but it seemed more than satisfactory for this kind of film.

This new special edition of Unforgiven replaces a barebones effort and adds lots of new supplements. Most of these appear on Disc Two, but the first DVD includes some components. Most significant is an audio commentary from Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel, who offers a running, screen-specific track. At times Schickel provides some information about the creation of the film and its path to the screen; for example, he relates how Eastwood sat on the project for years before he felt ready to make it.

However, most of the commentary focuses on character and story interpretation. Schickel nicely covers these issues and tries to dig inside the message on display and other rich elements. He clearly feels warmly toward the film, and his enthusiasm for it comes through well. My only real complaint about the track revolves around the moderately frequent gaps; though these don’t become overwhelming, too much of the movie passes without material from Schickel. Despite that fault, the commentary generally provides an informative and enlightening piece.

In addition to the commentary and the film’s theatrical trailer - presented anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio - DVD One tosses in some text features. Eastwood Out West offers a decent look at the actor’s career in Westerns. Cast and Crew simply lists the names of a few participants; it includes no biographies or additional information. Awards mentions the various prizes earned by Unforgiven.

When we move to DVD Two, we find a slew of additional extras. We start with All On Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger, a brand-new program about Unforgiven that runs 22 minutes and 35 seconds. Hosted by Morgan Freeman, it includes the usual mix of movie snippets and new interviews. In the latter category, we hear from actor/director Clint Eastwood, actors Freeman and Gene Hackman, editor Joel Cox, and writer David Webb Peoples. We hear a little about the origins of the project as well as how Eastwood became involved in it, but most of the program discusses the film’s anti-violence elements. Those parts of the show seem reasonably engaging, though we don’t get enough information to achieve any real depth. That occurs because we see far too many movie snippets; these fill about half of the piece. “Trigger” seems moderately interesting but it doesn’t provide much insight.

From 1992, Eastwood and Co.: Making Unforgiven lasts 23 minutes and 50 seconds. Hosted by Hal Holbrook, this show offers another combination of film clips, shots from the set, and interviews. The latter category includes remarks from Eastwood, actors Hackman, Freeman, Richard Harris, production designer Henry Bumstead, cinematographer Jack Green, script supervisor Lloyd Nelson, gaffer Tom Stern, executive producer David Valdes, technical consultant Buddy Van Horn, property master Edward Aiona, costume supervisor Glenn Wright, and animal wrangler John Scott. Though “Eastwood” also includes too many film clips and too much plot discussion, it seems more compelling than “Trigger” largely because of the interesting snippets from the set. We see some great behind the scenes footage, and the show also provides a quick look at Eastwood’s acting history. Though “Eastwood” remains somewhat superficial, it gives us enough useful material to merit a look.

Next we find Eastwood… A Star, a 16-minute and five-second featurette that also dates from the theatrical release of Unforgiven. Similar in construction to the prior show, this one features comments solely from Eastwood as it covers his career. It repeats some of the shots from the last piece, but it concentrates more heavily on older flicks. The results seem a little puffy, but overall, it provides decent little overview.

For more information in that vein, we heard to Eastwood on Eastwood, a 68-minute and 30-second documentary. Narrated by John Cusack, the program covers Clint’s career through 1997’s Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil. The show mostly consists film clips and interviews with Eastwood, but we see some behind the scenes footage from flicks like Bird, Unforgiven, and Garden. The movie scenes definitely dominate the piece, which seems like a burden and a blessing. On one hand, the prevalence of the snippets allows us to get a good feel for Eastwood’s career. The program doesn’t include material from all of Clint’s flicks, but we get a pretty solid sampling.

However, this doesn’t leave tons of time from comments from Eastwood. He adds some nice remarks at times, but these don’t appear with the frequency I’d prefer. That means that we receive a somewhat superficial discussion of his work; it features moderate insight but it doesn’t often dig beneath the surface. Still, Eastwood seems entertaining and generally informative.

Finally, we get a nice look at Clint’s very early career via Maverick: Duel at Sundown. This 49-minute piece includes an entire episode of the series from 1959. Not surprisingly, the story features Eastwood in a prominent guest role as Red Hardigan. This provided a very cool extra, as it was a lot of fun to see the young Eastwood at work, and the show seemed pretty entertaining to boot.

As a film, Unforgiven has some merits and offers a generally strong piece of work. The movie gives us a somewhat forced but moderately thoughtful treatise on violence; it doesn’t totally achieve its goals, but it works fairly well overall. The DVD provides very strong picture and sound as well as a pretty solid collection of extras. Eastwood fans will definitely want to pick up this package, even if they already own the original DVD; this new one totally outdoes the old set.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5373 Stars Number of Votes: 134
4 3:
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