Not only did the release of the multi-acclaimed Unforgiven reaffirm its star's status as a Hollywood heavyweight. It also lay to rest the lingering doubts about him as a single directorial entity. There are those who have claimed through Eastwood's career that he relies heavily on the man behind the camera to bring out the best of him in a role. This would seem to explain the success he had enjoyed throughout the 1960s and 1970s - working with legends such as Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. However, if The Outlaw - Josey Wales had not put paid to that suspect theory, then Unforgiven certainly does. Eastwood's directorial masterwork is just about as moody an American western as you are likely to see. Unlike many of the earlier attempts to capture the feel of the Spanish and Italian 'spaghetti westerns', this movie manages to combine typical Hollywood glitz with a commendable amount of realism. Excellent performances from Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman are underpinned by Eastwood's tight directorial style. Far from employing the 'roaming' technique that Leone had made his own years earlier, his prot�g� vouches for an altogether leaner approach to filming. Much of the action is focused at close quarters and rarely strays from the here-and-now.
Unforgiven is the story of two ageing gunslingers that reluctantly come out of retirement in order to pursue a lucrative bounty. The contract has been placed upon the heads of a number of individuals involved in the torturing of a young prostitute from the nearby town of Big Whisky. Eastwood plays once-notorious bandit William Munny. Long-since retired, he is gradually lured back into this dangerous world by "the Schofield Kid" - a wet-behind-the-ears cowboy. The 'Kid' informs Munny of the price being offered for the lives of the girls' tormentors, and his old friend Ned Logan (Freeman), who yearns for the old days, helps to break Munny's resistance. Finally, the two ride off towards Big Whisky in pursuit of the bounty.
Despite the anachronistic nature of the Academy Awards, the bestowing of such an award on Gene Hackman for his role as sadistic Sheriff 'Little Bill' Dagget, was entirely justified. Big Whisky's lawman is a corrupt and ruthless figure that dishes out his own form of civil justice on anyone who dares challenge him. One such unfortunate is an old-time crook by the name of English Bob (Richard Harris). Bob attempts to challenge his old adversary one last time and pays a heavy price for his efforts.
Eastwood is adequate as loner Munny. Much of his best work is done behind the lens. His acting performance really comes alive however during the final half-hour of the movie. In tragedy and grief he faces up to the infamous Little Bill and finally reveals just why he was such a feared bandit all those years before.
This newly released Special Edition DVD is a much-improved version to the rather sparse affair of its predecessor. Transfer quality is impeccable, as is the real depth of the Dolby digital 5.1 soundtrack. Additional features are also of good quality. Included is a commentary from Eastwood's biographer Richard Schickel, a featurette and behind-the-scenes documentary. Schickel also provides an entertaining 'career retrospective' of Eastwood. To round off matters, there is a rather obscure TV programme called Duel At Sundown, which features a younger version of Eastwood in a similar role to that of William Munny. Overall, a well presented package for a milestone movie.