Clint Eastwood is always someone you can rely on to entertain, be it in front or behind the camera, and 'Unforgiven' proves no exception to that rule (here he features on both sides of the camera). Having said that, the degree of success he achieves doing that for me is variable, as all too often I find his direction leads to films which are superbly constructed and laden with messages of morality but ultimately leave me feeling they total less than the sum of their parts.
For me, 'Unforgiven' is far more successful as a cinematic vehicle for story-telling than his more recent work that I have seen, which usually (eg 'Gran Torino', 'Million Dollar Baby' or 'Changeling') left me feeling slightly under whelmed and thinking the presentation a little pretentious, but still of course extremely well-produced....I think in the case of 'Unforgiven' success is achieved because the plot has more 'strands' to it than other later work, so the 'messages' within are more numerous and varied.
The film, which is often extremely violent and rightly has a '15' viewing certificate, earned Eastwood 'Oscars' for Best Picture and Best Director. On Blu-ray it looks and sounds superb, with terrific clarity and detail. There is an improvement over an upscaled playback of the newer remastered 2-disc DVD - the Blu-ray has greater sharpness/detail (eg background trees are perfectly clear whereas on the DVD they're a bit mushy) but overall the improvement is slight, a real testament to how good DVD can still be if given the right 'treatment'.
So to the plot, which despite being multi-stranded is not complicated:
"A once very violent and ruthless gunman (played by Eastwood), now a widowed-father of 2 young children, is drawn back to his old habits after receiving an invitation to team-up with a much less 'experienced' gunman, who is seeking the financial reward on offer to kill the man responsible for the violent maiming of a local-working prostitute. The significant other aspects of the story include enticing an old 'colleague' to join the two bounty-hunters (who then proceed to hunt their prey) and, most significantly, dealing with the sheriff of the town (played by Gene Hackman, on Oscar-winning form) where the prostitute lives/works, who makes great efforts to maintain a safe neighbourhood and is not best pleased with the whole ransom-affair, mostly since it threatens to destabilise the largely peaceful community he has created."
I've been careful to properly detail the significant personalities in the film, not just because their attributes are core to the themes of morality and good vs bad which I think Eastwood is aiming to convey (in a screenplay inspired by American author Glendon Swarthout's book 'The Shootist'), but also because if you read the Amazon synopsis there is a massive error in it. It labels the Sheriff character as 'corrupt' when he is anything but - he is actually very much the 'good guy' (the author of that piece clearly needs to watch the film again !), despite some of his law-keeping being rather robust ! And that is actually quite a pertinent point, since Eastwood doesn't usually play the true 'villain'; but here in 'Unforgiven' he most definitely is the bad guy, despite any impressions you might form to the contrary by virtue of him seeking to revenge a violent act.
The story then plays out as the bounty-hunters seek their 'prey' and the law-abiding nature of the town 'sheriffed' by Hackman is upset by other villains visiting to get in on the bounty 'action' (courtesy of a marvellous 'cameo' from Richard Harris), as guns are banned and violence very much frowned upon....
Aside from the morality tales, for me the real star of 'Unforgiven' is the performance of Hackman. His character dominates almost every aspect of the film, and despite being credited as a supporting part it is the actions and dialogue of the sheriff which drive the story along - and Hackman delivers his piece in spades, beautifully portraying massive personality swings and an overall sense of being a dominant force. No wonder he won that Oscar.....
The ending, which I think is unexpected, is just as ruthless as the violent aspects which precede it and can take a while to properly appreciate, very much like the film as a whole which I did not care for on my first viewing but have since come to like much more. The Blu-ray presents the film to perfection (the DD5.1 might appear to be a bit 'ungenerous' but is perfectly adequate for what is a largely dialogue-driven film), includes a commentary/several featurettes and is well-worth getting to experience this unusual 'Western' at its best; however, if you've already got the newer remastered 2-disc DVD/cannot play Blu-rays then, if upscaled, the DVD is most definitely worth keeping/buying instead as it presents things almost as well.