Sunday, April 11, 2010

UNFORGIVEN: Blu-Ray (WB 1992) Warner Home Video

Director Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) is a grizzly postmodern epitaph to the classic American western narrative. The film stars Eastwood as stoic reformed gunslinger William Munny. Living with his two children and the memory of his dearly departed wife Ruth on an isolated pig farm, Munny is brought out of his self imposed retirement by a proposal from up and comer, The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett).

Seems that The Kid is hell bent on emulating Munny's one time reign of vengeance, this time to collect on a $1000 reward to be paid to anyone who will avenge the disfigurement of a prostitute at the hands of one of her drunken clients.

The Kid has a reputation. Unfortunately, that’s all he has. So he enlists William’s help. Initially turning The Kid down, Will eventually realizes that his lack of success as a farmer will soon leave his children penniless and without a future. Hence, he accepts The Kid's proposal and rides off to Big Whiskey along with friend and one time gunfighter, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). Logan is a reluctant participant however, and his apprehensions continue to grow as the three make their way across the stark open country of Wyoming for a fateful date with their own pasts and future destiny.

Meanwhile, Big Whiskey's lawman, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) is as corrupt as the men he seeks to put behind bars. The plot thickens with the arrival of assassin, English Bob (Richard Harris) and his sycophant pulp novelist/publicist, W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubenstein). Like the Scholfield Kid, Bob has come to town for the cash with a reputation that precedes his marksmanship. Beauchamp has merely come to Big Whiskey in search of a good story. For his efforts, Bob is promptly beaten to near extinction by Daggett before being thrown in jail, a move that causes Beauchamp to switch horses in mid-stride and suggest another collaboration – to pen the unvarnished account of Daggett’s memoirs.

Munny, Logan and The Kid arrive in town but they are systematically brutalized by Daggett and his men with Munny's thirst for vengeance eventually shifting from the men who disfigured the prostitute to Daggett himself. In the resulting showdown, Munny beats Daggett by a hair, but pays for it with Logan's life in the process. Experiencing murder up close for the first time, The Kid has a moment of clarity and breaks down. If the film does have a single note of redemption before its final fade out, it is that perhaps Munny's last days as an assassin have convinced The Kid that this is not a legacy to be admired or even copied.

As director and star – Eastwood's past career in front of the camera has made him well versed for this bleaker than usual ‘spaghetti western’ hybrid. In a career cultivated on the success of the ‘man with no name’ – an antihero with semi-honorable intensions, Eastwood's prior 'bad acts' for director Sergio Leone have made him one of the last iconic emblems of the Hollywood western.

But William Munmy is no such specimen. In his glory, Munny was a ruthless and unrepentant killer for hire. In his current state of decline he remains a man torn from his past while unable to reconcile it with either his present or limited future.That we find Eastwood treading this familiar dust and tumbleweed with disquieting conviction is no great surprise. To also discover that the once 2-D cardboard cut out from those earlier westerns has matured into engaging bittersweet revision perhaps is. The film builds its quiet methodical pace into an emotionally tragic conclusion filled with even more regrets, loss and death.

Unforgiven is not a picture postcard of the Hollywood western and yet there are moments of great rural beauty that a perfectionist such as John Ford would have been proud of or perhaps even envious to have shot himself. It's the juxtaposition of that surreal backdrop next to the small squalor of utterly pointless lives set before it that make Unforgiven its starkly epic quality; the old west stripped of its majesty - sad and sobering and half limping toward an uncertain future.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-Ray easily bests its 2-disc standard DVD. Color fidelity and resolution of fine details take a quantum leap forward for an anamorphic widescreen image that is sumptuous and often stunning. Flesh tones that appeared garishly orange on the standard DVD have been brought into line on the Blu-Ray with ruddy resplendence.

Grain is present but represented accurately on the Blu-Ray rather than as digital harshness on the standard DVD - particularly during the darker scenes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital with a refined acoustic spread across all channels. Extras are all direct imports from the 2disc DVD and include an extensive reflection by Eastwood on the making of the film, 2 audio commentaries, a television episode of Maverick and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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