It's still one of the 20th century's most epic westerns, but this 20th Anniversary Edition of Unforgiven is the same Blu-ray you (hopefully) already own....
Warner / 131 Minutes / 1992 / Rated R / Street Date: February 21, 2012
When Clint Eastwood finally strapped on his holster and saddled up after a nearly ten-year absence, many were expecting more of the same: just another good western from a man who has made more than his fair share of 'em. What they got instead was perhaps the greatest anti-western ever made, a film marked by a sense of honor and responsibility, one that made no bones about questioning the conventions and aesthetics of the genre instead of reveling in them. After the dust finally settled, Unforgiven ended up grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office alone, and snagged four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Eastwood's first win for direction. It just may be his finest film ever.
Clint plays antihero Will Munny, an ex-gun for hire now living a quiet, simple life as a pig farmer and widower raising a young son and daughter. His wife long since having cured him of his wicked ways, the last thing a man like this needs is temptation to come along and lure him back down a wrong path. You might be able to change behavior, but is it possible to ever really change a man's true nature?
This theoretical question is put to the test when a brash young outlaw comes calling with an offer Will can't refuse. A prostitute has been assaulted, and her coworkers have put out a contract on the cowpokes who done her wrong. Tempted back by the conviction that he can once again walk away when the job is done,
Will's first stop is to bring his old partner (Morgan Freeman) in on the deal. Once reunited, the trio set out to fulfill the contract and collect on the bounty. But waiting for them in town is the legendary sheriff, Little Bill (Academy Award-winner for Best Supporting Actor Gene Hackman), who intends to intervene in the execution and arrest any men who dare to cross his path.
What is so revolutionary about Unforgiven is its refusal to back down from its stance on just who the heroes and villains really are. Things are not black and white; Little Bill is just as much if not more so a villain than Munny, who in many ways is the more moral of the two, but no reformed angel. Heading into town with the sole purpose of killing a pair of cowboys, one of which is innocent, our loyalties as an audience are often confused. Switch the casting of Hackman and Eastwood and you could change everything: each is a real human character with good and evil raging within, and to the film's great benefit, Eastwood ultimately never picks sides.
Ironically for some in light of Eastwood's iconic status as a cowboy and Dirty Harry, there's a clear theme of anti-violence running throughout the film. Eastwood, like Munny, is a man who has spent the majority of his career steeped in violence, Munny's real, Eastwood's fact, but the parallel remains relevant. With Unforgiven, he dramatizes that internal conflict with poetry and the kind of innate wisdom only someone of his stature could pull off. When he thought he was cured, it took only a reason and a lack of consequences to bring him back. Love it or hate it, Unforgiven remains one of the most important American films of the past few decades, and despite all the awards, still somewhat underrated.