Rather than give up and churn out another Dirty Harry, Eastwood made the wise decision to reexamine an old script he had been sitting on for years called ‘The Cut-Whore Killings’. For Eastwood, who was now in his sixties, UNFORGIVEN would be his last word on the genre that made him a star- the western. Most of Eastwood’s own westerns (the ones he directed) embraced a certain mysticism- most evident in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and PALE RIDER, with him being a supernatural, ghostly figure. UNFORGIVEN was more akin to his OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, with this taking a long, hard look at the human toll a life of violence takes on the soul. However, he took it one step further here, with his William Munny being the kind of badman a guy like Josey Wales would have gunned down in a second.
In his old age, Munny is a truly repentant soul, and only takes on the bounty in order to provide a new start for his kids. Eastwood’s performance as Munny is one of his best, being the most complicated character he’s ever played. Munny is no superman, nor is he particularly clever or brave. He’s just a punk that’s grown up, and realized how stupid he was in his youth. Freeman, as his partner Ned is similarly good, with him having been the cooler, more evenhanded part of their gang- but unlike Munny, he proves to be even more of a changed man in his old age- with a scene late in the film showing his utter agony as he attempts to take a life.
Rounding out the trio of stars is Gene Hackman as Little Bill, and you’ve got to hand it to Eastwood for giving the film’s best role to Hackman. A complicated guy, Hackman is at times a likable, funny guy- but is capable of turning into a sadistic killer at the drop of a hat, such as the unsettling scene where he entertains and then threatens a visiting Old West biographer (Saul Rubinek). Hackman won the Oscar for this, and it’s easy to see why.
In addition to giving the juiciest role to Hackman, Eastwood made another interesting choice in having UNFORGIVEN, rather than focus on his character, into more of an ensemble piece- capable of going off an colorful asides, such as the English Bob subplot, where a gentlemanly English gunslinger runs afoul of Hackman- who objects to the way he’s been turned into a cult hero- while he knows him to be a gutless killer.
Next up is a short featurette hosted by Morgan Freeman looking at UNFORGIVEN’s legacy- featuring interviews with Eastwood and Hackman. There’s also an EPK from 1992 included, which is a fun watch, as it has lots of great on-set footage featuring Eastwood clowning around with Freeman and Hackman (apparently, while the film is harsh, the set was actually a fun place to be). There’s also a 10 min vintage highlight reel from Eastwood’s career- which is hopelessly out of date considering all he’s been up to lately. Finally, there’s the trailer .