“You'd be William Munny out of Missouri. Killer of women and children.”
- Little Bill Dagget
“That's right. I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I'm here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”
- William Munny
Since it arrived in my mailbox, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to write about this 20th anniversary Blu-ray DigiBook release of Clint Eastwood’s landmark Western Unforgiven. In many ways this is the acclaimed actor and director’s seminal work, the one movie that coalesces so many of his previous performances and themes into one. At the same time, it’s just a damn good Western featuring an incredible script by David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner) and phenomenal performances by its all-star cast (Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Frances Fisher, Saul Rubinek and Gene Hackman – who incidentally won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).
But all of that aside, it is the effect Unforgiven had on me at the time of that first initial viewing, the way I walked out of the movie theatre awestruck, just a High School kid still becoming familiar with the world of cinema and how Ford beget Hawks who beget Sturges who beget Leone who beget Peckinpah who beget Siegel (so on, so forth) and how all of that came crashing together in one miraculous 131-minute span. I knew for some time my life would end up revolving around film, that I’d spend much of my time talking and debating and discussing it, but it wasn’t until after that miraculous afternoon I could say that for certain, Eastwood’s achievement probably the first modern achievement I immediately knew was an instant classic alongside Western greats like The Searchers, Rio Bravo and The Wild Bunch.
Not that I understand why anyone would choose to call Unforgiven a revisionist Western. People’s script is honest, unvarnished and full of truth, but it hardly walks in circles other entries in the genre hadn’t flirted with and traveled in before. If anything, Eastwood himself had been dealing with ideas and concepts like these for decades, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Beguiled in particular dealing with many of the same concepts of violence, heroism, myth, tragedy, good and evil that this one does.
The difference, I think, is that unlike John Ford’s The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Fort Apache, unlike Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, unlike Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, Eastwood’s Unforgiven coalesces these themes together in a way that feels immediate and relatable on modern terms. Hackman’s Little Bill Dagget is a sheriff straight out of modern Arizona or the 1990’s Los Angeles maelstroms, a guy who believes he’s doing the right thing for his tiny town but in reality is a sadistic monster who belittles and dehumanizes others in order to cement his own perception of moral superiority. As for Eastwood’s William Munny, he’s a monster, a monster who has tried to change his ways and understands the evils he’s done thanks to alcohol and greed. But he’s also a highly moral human being, one who fatherly soothes a traumatized survivor of sexual and physical abuse and who puts his friendship with Ned Logan – vividly played by Freeman – above just about everything else in his life.
When the end comes, it hits home in a way that is as staggering as it is magnificent. The bullets fly, people die and revenge is exacted, but at what cost? Are there heroes in this version of the West? Do those who deserved their fates end up six-feet under the ground? As Munny says so coldly and with such impersonal pragmatism, “Deserves got nothing to do with it,” and I can’t think of any single sentence that summarizes Unforgiven as exquisitely as it.
Unforgiven is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1080p 2.40:1 transfer.
This disc features English Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and includes optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. A strong track, the lack of a lossless audio upgrade is still kind of jarring nonetheless. For a 20th anniversary presentation, I do feel Warner should have went this one extra mile, the doing so arguably could have made this one of the finest Blu-rays currently on the market.
Extras are ported over from the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions and include:
· Audio Commentary by Clint Eastwood biographer and film critic Richard Schickel
· All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger
· Eastwood and Co.: Making Unforgiven
· Eastwood…A Star
· Eastwood on Eastwood
· Classic “Maverick” Episode – Duel at Sundown
· Original Theatrical Trailer
So the extras are all still more or less outstanding, Schickel’s typically insightful audio commentary (he is Eastwood’s biographer, after all) a true highlight. Still a great deal of fun is the episode for “Maverick,” while the four documentaries prove to be extremely easy to re-watch (a rarity in the best of cases).
The only new extra here is the 54-page DigiBook packaging featuring an intro from Eastwood, whose modesty is on full display as he states, “I personally rate Unforgiven as one of the better Westerns I have been associated with,” and an excellent retrospective essay by Schickel that analyzes the movie and discusses its longevity in exacting detail.
For a 20th anniversary release, one could understandably have hoped for a bit more in regards to extras, but when they’re all as outstanding as these it’s kind of easy to accept why Warner didn’t feel the need to bother. The disc is a double-dip, that’s for certain, and while I’d never tell anyone who owns the previous Blu-ray release to make the purchase those who have refrained from exchanging their DVD for a hi-def upgrade are certainly out of excuses to do so at this point.
A lossless soundtrack upgrade would have been nice, but for those who don’t already own the Unforgiven Blu-ray this DigiBook presentation is still pretty damn awesome.