Unforgiven (AFI #68)

April 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

“Unforgiven” is one of my top 10 favorite films of all time, so having to watch it again was not exactly a chore. Sometimes, when you understand how films are made, having that information will keep you from liking the movie as much as you otherwise might have (“African Cats,” for example). Other times, you end up liking the film a whole lot more because you appreciate the skill.

“Unforgiven” is as close to perfect as a film can get. So much so that I have to confess, when I watched it for filmic elements, I went into it deliberately being overpicky, to try to find the flaws. There are places where the ADR is the teensiest, tiniest bit off, which regular audiences probably wouldn’t pick up…but that’s seriously all I could find.

The SFX are right on, down to the splashes in the stream corresponding to the individual hooves on the horses. I never used to think about that stuff before, but now that I do, it’s something beautiful when it’s done really well.

What I thought of Eastwood before is that his strength was simplicity. I still agree with that, though, am now marveling at how often and how well he puts natural light to work for him. I don’t know what technology was available yet in 1993, so don’t know whether shadows of the crew got digitally removed from some shots, or, where the heck the crew could safely be in that shot given the direction of the sun and what they needed to capture. The level of precise timing, in terms of shooting at a specific point in the day for sunlight and the direction thereof, must have made determining the production schedule interesting.

When I remember the 1993 Oscars, when this took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing and a very well-deserved Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, I remember being disappointed that it hadn’t also won for screenwriting and cinematography. Nearly 20 years later, I still find this one of the most quotable films I’ve ever seen.

I did find myself feeling sorry for Clint Eastwood because he falls down A LOT in this one, and I could not see that he was using a stunt person in any of those cases. This was the perfect vehicle for an aging western actor, playing the unwilling hero whose past antics haunt him. I don’t know that he can ever make a film I love more than this one, and after “Hereafter,” I’m concerned that he’s lost his mojo altogether. Time will tell, but, the guy is 80 years old now.

Does “Unforgiven” belong on the AFI Best list? Definitely.

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