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Clint Eastwood and gritty, violent Westerns go together like country and apple pie. You don’t get any more classically American than the Wild West Gunfighter, a role that first made Eastwood an International star and one that he continued to embrace for decades. In that respect, 1992’s “Unforgiven” is the pinnacle of Eastwood as the Gunfighter, and if you haven’t seen it before, God help you, you’ve been missing out. Luckily for you, the film is being re-released on Blu-ray Book courtesy of Warner Home Video just in time for the movie’s 20th anniversary, so what’s your excuse now?
Retired Old West gunslinger William Munny reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner and a young man.
Written by David Webb Peoples and starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, “Unforgiven” blew me away when I first saw it 20 years ago, and it’s still an unquestionable masterpiece today. The film would go on to win Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, Best Picture, and Best Director for Eastwood at the 1992 Academy Awards. It was nominated for another half dozen other categories that it lost out on, including Best Actor for Eastwood. But I guess getting the Best Director statue helped ease that loss.
“We all have it coming, kid.”
Eastwood stars as Will Munny, a retired gunfighter trying to make it as a farmer with his two young children. Money is tight, so when whippersnapper and wannabe killer The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) shows up at his doorstep with a job offer to kill some “bad men”, Munny reluctantly agrees to join the righteous cause. Of course, our man just needs the money. Munny in turn recruits his old buddy Ned (Morgan Freeman), and the trio set out to kill some cowboys for “cutting up some whores”. They run afoul of Little Bill (Gene Hackman), himself a notorious killer, now retired to sheriffing the town where Munny, Ned, and the Kid’s victims reside. When the four clash, guns are drawn, bullets discharged, and bodies fall left and right. Assassins, we learn, are not treated very kindly around these here parts.
In a lot of ways, “Unforgiven” is the most realistic Western Clint Eastwood has ever done. You can almost think of it as the film he was destined to do, to make up for all the over-the-top, glorified Westerns of Sergio Leone and its type that he’s been involved in. Those films were great entertainment, but you would never confuse them with “gritty” or “real”. “Unforgiven” is a sordid tale of vengeful whores, sadistic lawmen, back-shooting bushwhackers, and opportunistic killer-for-hires. There are no real heroes, no innocents, just men and women trying to make their way through life the best they can, and it just so happens that some of them end up dead, while others make it through, if not entirely unscathed.
Look, if you love Westerns, and you’ve never seen “Unforgiven”, I can’t tell you what a tragedy that is. “Unforgiven” is the kind of film that even those who are averse to Westerns love, so imagine being a fan of the genre and never having seen it. You are really missing out on one of the best American films of the last few decades. Go grab the Blu-ray Book now and watch it, then come back and thank me for it later. It’s violent and so gritty you might feel like taking a shower afterwards. Will Munny is the kind of anti-hero you’d love to have watching your back, but if he’s not your buddy, you don’t want to be stuck in a dark alley with him. He’s liable to shoot you in the face with a double-barrel shotgun.
The first Blu-ray copy of “Unforgiven” was released in 2006, but the Blu-ray Book comes in that “book” bound format that is just so cool to have on the shelf. You also get about 50-plus pages of behind-the-scenes stuff on the making of the film. Some of the cooler facts in the book: the $1,000 that the whores were offering to kill the cowboys would be around $100,000 in today’s money, which means, yes, whoring paid damn good back “in the day”. Eastwood, as he’s famous for, shot the entire movie in just 39 days despite having to deal with inclimate weather. Dude just works fast.
Bonus features on the disc include a full-length audio commentary from Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, which I thought was an odd choice. Though I suppose if you really want to delve into what makes Eastwood ticks on and off film, Schickel would be the man you would go to. Schickel is also responsible for an hour-long documentary on Eastwood’s career in front of and behind the camera called “Eastwood on Eastwood”. The one thing you learn from this doc? Eastwood has played a LOT of really badass dudes in his career. But then you probably already know that. Don’t you, punk?
Other featurettes include “All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger”, a 22-minute talking head doc on the making of the film with its stars, director, and screenwriter. If that wasn’t enough, there is a 24-minute “Eastwood and Co: Making Unforgiven”, which offers even more “making of” stuff with voiceover narration by Hal Holbrook. It’s actually pretty lively and could probably even work as a gag reel, if they did such things back in 1992. And just in case you haven’t gotten enough Eastwood yet, the 16-minute “Eastwood: A Star” doc continues the Eastwood worship. The funny thing is, I bet Eastwood would be embarrassed by all this attention to his career.
And finally, you also get the 1959 “Maverick” TV episode, “Duel at Sundown” (about 50 minutes), which features an early guest starring role by Eastwood as the story’s villain. This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen Eastwood play a bad guy, so it’s definitely worth a watch.