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Unforgiven Special Edition (15)



Review: Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Disc One: Commentary by Time Magazine film critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel; Theatrical trailer.
Disc Two: Behind-the-scenes documentary: 'Eastwood & Co. Making Unforgiven'; 10th anniversary featurette: 'All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger'; Interviews with Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Richard Harris; Career retrospective: 'Eastwood on Eastwood' by Richard Schickel (67 mins); Classic Maverick TV series episode 'Duel at Sundown' in which Eastwood plays a virtual younger incarnation of his Unforgiven role (47 mins).

IT'S been 11 years since Clint Eastwood delivered what, for many, was the crowning achievement of a glittering career. Unforgiven, released in 1992, was (and remains) a superb movie, a revisionist Western which cast a fresh perspective on a forgotten genre, while also bringing one of the Wild West's most famous cowboys full circle.

Eastwood has long been associated with the Western, beginning life in the television series, Rawhide, as well as appearing in an episode of Maverick (which is included on the special edition DVD).

Yet it was Sergio Leone who, in 1964, brought a young Eastwood to global attention, by casting him as 'The Man With No Name' in the first of his Dollars trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars. Eastwood's spaghetti westerns also reinvented the genre and became renowned for their trigger-happy violence and lack of a romantic hero.

The Man With No Name was a loner, the type of whom would shoot first, then ask questions later. Gone was the notion of 'doing the right thing', as exemplified by Gary Cooper's Marshall in High Noon. Here was an unforgiving west, a violent west, and a place where caring meant you were likely to end up dead.

Such was the success of the Dollars trilogy - For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly followed - that Eastwood was able to continue pushing the boundaries when he returned to Hollywood, appearing in films such as Hang 'Em High, Joe Kidd and High Plains Drifter - all similar takes on The Man With No Name theme, which went a long way to dispelling the romanticism surrounding the old west.

In 1976, however, Eastwood confounded the critics again, by directing The Outlaw Josey Wales, a remarkable Western that continued his journey towards Unforgiven. Josey Wales begins as a revenge movie, as Eastwood seeks to hunt down the men responsible for the massacre of his family, but then turns into something different; as Josey Wales attempts to rediscover the family man inside of him, while running the gauntlet of the bounty hunters on his trail.

 

The film is rightly regarded as a masterpiece and showed a different side of Eastwood that critics were willing to embrace. It also marked the actor's last great western before Unforgiven - despite yet more revisionist takes on the subject (such as Bronco Billy) or his homage to Shane, Pale Rider.

By 1992, however, he felt ready to take on the role of Will Munny, a killer-turned-farmer, struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife and to raise his son, who is lured out of retirement to hunt down and kill the men who cut up a prostitute.

Saddling up with his former partner (Morgan Freeman) and a rough youngster (Jaimz Woolvett), Eastwood heads for the town of Big Whiskey, where he must face the rough justice of Sheriff Daggett (Gene Hackman) and confront the demons of his past.

Unforgiven works on so many levels, that it is easy to see why it cleaned up at so many awards ceremonies (it rode off with four Academy awards, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor), as well as at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs and countless other awards ceremonies.

Performance-wise, the movie is spot-on, while in look and structure the film is near-faultless. Eastwood's Munny is a terrific character, a broken man haunted by the memory of a wicked past, who is fully aware of the cost of his violence. His is a character tinged with regret, a lonely, frightened man, completely removed from the arrogant gunslinger of his Spaghetti western heroics. This is what The Man With No Name might have ended up like, had he survived that long.

Likewise, Hackman (who took the Oscar) is a revelation, a bitter, cowardly old man who rules the town of Big Whiskey by fear. His terrible humiliation of Richard Harris' English Bob is an early indication of the treatment that lies in store for Munny, while his reluctance to play proper sheriff and arrest the cowhands responsible for harming the prostitute triggers the events that will lead to his own demise.

He is the pick of the support players, although Freeman is typically reliable, as is Harris, while Woolvett made a suitably impressive breakthrough.

The look of the film is also well-observed, flitting between lush sunsets (at the start of the movie) to dark, cloudy, even rainswept terrains towards the finale, when Munny exacts a swift and unforgiving revenge/justice?

As a modern classic, it has few equals, while as Eastwood's definitive work, it should find a place on any DVD shelf. The special edition is something that any fan will want to cherish.

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