Unforgiven (1992) [Blu-ray]
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Winner of four Academy Awards, including best picture, director, supporting actor and best editing, Clint Eastwood's 1992 masterpiece stands as one of the greatest and most thematically compelling Westerns ever made. "The movie summarised everything I feel about the Western," said Eastwood at the time of the film's release. "The moral is the concern with gunplay." To illustrate that theme, Eastwood stars as a retired, once-ruthless killer-turned-gentle-widower and hog farmer. He accepts one last bounty-hunter mission--to find the men who brutalised a prostitute--to help support his two motherless children. Joined by his former partner (Morgan Freeman) and a cocky greenhorn (Jaimz Woolvett), he takes on a corrupt sheriff (Oscar winner Gene Hackman) in a showdown that makes the viewer feel the full impact of violence and its corruption of the soul. Dedicated to Eastwood's mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel and featuring a colourful role for Richard Harris, Unforgiven is arguably Eastwood's crowning directorial achievement. --Jeff Shannon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The story is one that works on many levels. It begins with one insecure cowboy and a prostitute of Big Whiskey, Wyoming that cascades into an unforgivable act of violence. One that'll beget more when all is done. The local sheriff, "Little Bill" Daggett (Gene Hackman in top award form), has a less-than adequate consequence for the cowboys involved--especially for her fellow prostitutes led by Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher). Thus, this group of women will look outside of the law (since it's done nothing for them and their mutilated cohort) in search for "justice."
And so, a word-of-mouth bounty of $1000 is placed on the trails and in the ears of any 'randy' passersby. This promise of a bounty (through a young relative of an old sidekick) will eventually find William Munny (Eastwood), a poor, widowed Kansas pig farmer trying to make ends meet for his two young children. The "Schofield Kid" (Jaime Woolvett) has heard, in passed down tales, that Munny was one of the most cold-blooded bounty hunters there ever was. A "... known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition" that he surmises would be an asset to have for the quest ahead.
The others that will come to regret their involvement will include Ned Logan (the always great Morgan Freeman) as William's longtime friend and partner, and English Bob (the late Richard Harris) as the colorful, haughty gun-for-hire that also comes looking to collect. 'Unforgiven', besides bringing together a marvelous cast of lead and character actors together, has an absolutely splendid screenplay written by David Webb Peoples. It is quite a feat of elegant writing that can debunk the Western myths, as it does, but still come off heroic.
Clint knew that when he obtained the rights many years prior. It's to his credit that he recognized it as such and was smart enough to hold on to it until he was the right age and maturity to bring it off as actor and director. William Munny is both very close and far aways from his earlier 'Man With No Name' character. If anything, he is the summation of him. His being is of a troubled man, one that was 'turned' from drink and violence years ago by the love of a good woman (she's only hauntingly referred to in the prologue/epilogue). A struggling man looking to avoid poverty (for his kids) and damnation (for his past deeds), only to find he can't have both. He'll learn that the cost of violence, to twist a phrase by Mark Twain, "cannot compromise for less than 100 cents on the dollar and its debts never outlaw."
'Unforgiven', by rides end, will attest to all of that. And, it will sharply come back on itself. Little Bill, a good man gone bad, will have us pulling for that reformed bad man to take up the drink again and summon back the demon. Violence and revenge, without an 'Undo' command. At the climactic moment, in one of the best and simplest exchanges of the film, the essence of this becomes clear: Little Bill says, "I'll see you in Hell, William Munny." To which Munny knowingly replies, "Yeah."
Another interesting aspect of the story is that none of the main male characters is what he first seems. Note the changes each character goes through by story's end. None of the men presented are black or white--just a soul-robbing gray. Cinematographer Jack N. Green does an equally beautiful job etching an great visual canvas for a story told mostly in the contrast of shadows and highlights. This film won four deserved '92 Academy Awards (Picture, Supporting Actor, Director, and Film Editing). Finally, this second-edition DVD offers an all new digital transfer, a good commentary track by film critic Richard Schickel, and a nice set of featurette and documentary extras. Also included is a vintage episode of 'Maverick' with Clint guest starring--an interesting, light counterpoint to the movie. This is one of the most grim and dusky Best Picture winners ever (and only the third Western in film history to do so). But, it's also Eastwood's Dark Masterpiece.
Although the sweet-natured young prostitute who is mutilated by a drunken cowboy is certainly no Helen of Troy, Ned Logan no Patrocles, and Little Bill Daggett no Hector, screenwriter David Peoples creates a story with all the power and tragic grandeur of The Iliad, a myth of the American West that loosely and perhaps unconsciously derives from Homer's first masterpiece. But Unforgiven's raw, visceral power comes from the brilliantly-scripted dialogue and character development Peoples maps out. His entire story is a deconstruction of the mythologies of the Old West, where brave lawmen keep the peace, enforcing a rough justice in which Outlaws who choose to live by the gun die by the gun.
In the character of the Big-city reporter we see the origins of these myths. He follows the cold-blooded English Bob, a deadly gunslinger who works for the railroads, faithfully copying Bob's heavily embellished tales of his own heroic gunfights. When the train arrives in Big Whiskey, however -- the town run by Little Bill Daggett -- the sheriff employs one of his typically inconsistent punishments, beating English Bob brutally for failing to give up his guns, in defiance of a town ordinance. The reporter-biographer abandon's Bob to make Little Bill his new subject, who is very forthcoming about the failings of anyone but himself. His accounts of some of English Bob's exploits peel back the shiny surface of lies, to reveal a psychopath with a steady hand who worked for the railroads so he could murder Chinese laborers and slake his thirst for blood.
Little Bill, played by Gene Hackman in one of my all-time favorite performances, is a complex character based on legendary lawmen like Wyatt Earp. His confidence and charisma inspires loyalty in his deputies and townsfolk, and the biographer -- played by Saul Rubinek in another standout performance -- believes he has finally worked his way up the food chain to find the sort of feared and fearless lawman he's been looking for. Bill pulls back the curtain on the realities of a gunfight, and avoids braggadocio in a manner that suggests he doen't need it. But Bills' heavy-handed and arbitrary punishments are the catalyst for all the bloodshed that follows. His view of law and justice are reflected in his attempts at home-building; his out-of-square walls, uneven floor, and leaking roof are not enough to convince him that his attempt at carpentry was a failure. And when the poor young prostitute has her hard life made a thousand times harder by the cowboy who cuts up her face, Little Bill decides that the penalty will be a fine -- a few horses, paid not to the injured girl, but to Skinny the brothel owner.
This blatant injustice, and the fact that Little Bill views them as property no better than horses, inspires the women at the brothel to place a bounty on both cowboys' heads, despite the other man's attempt to stop his partner, disgusted by what he did. Nevertheless, he will die unforgiven. The prostitutes will be unforgiven for who they are and what they did. Ned will die unforgiven, simply for riding with Munny. And when Munny rides back into Big Whiskey, no one is forgiven, least of all Daggett, who tortured, killed and displayed the corpse of Ned Roundtree, Munny's only friend. After wounding Bill, killing his deputies, and sending the rest of the posse fleeing into the night, Munny realizes Bill is alive, and steps on a wrist before he can aim his pistol. He then points the shotgun into Daggett's face. "I don't deserve this... I built a house..." Little Bill rasps, staring into the steel cylinders as if sighting a not-so-distant hell at the other end. After emptying the bottle of liquor on the ride, William Munny seems more terrifyingly sober than we've yet seen him. In Eastwoods' inimitable whisper, he delivers the line that sums up the centuries of bloodshed that accompanied the settling of the American frontier, and perhaps all of human history: "Deserves got nothing to do with it." (BOOM...)
Like I said, best movie in my collection, worst DVD I ever bought, very disappointing.
In short, if you love the flick, then you must buy it. If you are a feature freak and/or an audio/video phile, you must steer (pun intended) clear.
Another thing worthy of mention which I don't see in many reviews is the theme music. The haunting music as the "intemperate disposition" text scrolls up the screen at the end is one of the highlights of the movie for me.
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