Archive for March 4th, 2009

Clint Eastwood

Since his first un-credited appearance in B horror Revenge of the Creature to last years Gran Torino (released in the UK this week) Clint Eastwood has appeared in approximately 60 films and a handful of TV programs in just over 50 years.

His career started as the so called “Golden age” of Cinema was in its last days. He went through the decline of the studio system and stared in the most famous of the Spaghetti Westerns before becoming a star of 70s and 80s Hollywood Blockbusters. In the 70s he moved into directing and for the past fifteen years he has only appeared in films he has directed himself. He twice came close to appearing in Batman, first in the camp TV series of the 60’s as Harvey Dent; fortunately the program was cancelled before just in time. The second time could have been more interesting, he was suggested to play the now aging Batman in a film inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The idea was scrapped when Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins went into production. All this however has come to an end. His next film behind the camera The Human Factor staring Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon is in pre production but he has stated that Gran Torino will be his last film as an actor.

With the sad passing of Paul Newman last year and Robert Redford only taking the occasional small role is this the end of the Movie star? 80s stars like tom Cruise are still going strong; Robert De Niro and Sean Penn are fine actors but Clint is probably the last great movie star in the mould of John Wayne or Steve McQueen. Her are a selection of his great performances:

The Man With No Name

dollarsPossibly his most iconic role The Man With no Name (although you clearly hear him referred to as Joe in A Fistful of Dollars and Blondie in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) in the Dollars Trilogy. Shot in 1964 but not released in the UK and USA for three years Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars) made a star of Eastwood who had previously been a jobbing actor mainly on TV and B movies. It would also forever link him to the western genre. The film was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo a samurai movie. The solitary warrior hero transposed well to the western setting and defined Eastwoods acting style for the rest of his career. In Eastwood’s hands (or face!) a look or a snarl can say far more than a line of dialogue. It also defined his unusual use of humour delivered in a deadpan style.

Harry Callahan

dirty-harry1This brings me on to the next Eastwood icon; Dirty Harry. Since its 1971 release how many times has a charter been described as a Dirty Harry Type? Probably nearly as many as the times people have quoted the “This is a .44 Magnum….” Speech! Harry is a complex character. On the surface he is a no nonsense hard as nails cop who does what has to be done to get the job done. At the time of release an unnamed writer at Variety said: “There are several chase sequences – before the sadist-with-badge dispatches the sadist-without-badge.” But looking at the character but looking the character nearly 30 years has Harry become the model for a movie cop? His actions seem positively gentle in comparison to TV’s Jack Bauer. On final thought on the character. How different would it have been if one of the other actors who had been offered the part before Clint. Paul Newman, John Wayne, and Steve McQueen all turned it down.

Philo Beddoe

every-which-way-but-loose1The film isn’t up to the standards of some on this list but the performance is great with Clint showing ability to do comedy. Eastwood also looks like a natural in the boxing scenes after he received training from Jake LaMotta’s coach Al Silvani who had also trained Sylvester Stallone for Rocky. The film was originally intended for Burt Reynolds who probably regrets passing on it as it was the second highest grossing film of 1978 behind Superman.

Sergeant Thomas Highway

heartbreak-ridge1What is it about Gunnery Sergeants; they steal the film when they are supposed to be a supporting character. Sergeant Hartman (Full Metal Jacket) and Sergeant Emil Foley (An Officer and a Gentleman). So what happens when the Gunnery Sergeants is the star of the film. It can only be Clint Eastwood’s Sergeant Thomas Highway in Heartbreak Ridge. The hard drinking no compromise hero who has high morel values but struggles to fit into society is the kind of role that Eastwood can play in his sleep but his presence and his comic timing elevate the movie beyond its simple story.

William Munny

unforgiven1Unbelievably it has been 17 years since Eastwood’s final western Unforgiven. Winning him two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director as well as a nomination for best Leading Actor it was a truly remarkable film. William Munny is a world apart from the early western characters Eastwood played. He is an aging killer who has turned his life around and is raising two young children trying to run his farm. He is not a hero saving a town or a man who has lost everything out for revenge. He is a sad old man who takes one last job because he needs the money. In some ways Eastwood’s best performance as an actor. He plays against type, not many western heroes fall of their horse unless they have been shot, Eastwood isn’t afraid to show Munny falling off his horse. You can see the inner pain in every crease in his face. A film no once else could have made half as well.

gran-torino1So the main event. Gran Torino, I chose this week’s theme based on the fact I was planning to see the film that may be Clint’s last acting role, a monumental moment in movie history by anybody’s standards. What I wasn’t expecting was just how good the film was going to be. Made back to back with the critically acclaimed Changeling this is a better film and sits well in the company of Eastwood’s masterpieces as a director; Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiving. The films I chose to highlight above are not a list of my favourite Eastwood films but films that have been mentioned in various reviews I have read for this film, different people see different past Clint characters in Walt Kowalski I see a lot of those mentioned above, a few not mentioned as well as a new side to the actor.

For those who haven’t seen the film a brief synopsis is: Walt Kowalski’s wife has recently died, he lives alone with his aging dog. His house is immaculately maintained, a point he takes great pride in. His garage is full of tools all perfectly arranged with every tool in place, it also contains his 1972 Gran Torino Sport kept in perfect condition and seemingly rarely driven. Walt’s main problem and his greatest regret is an inability to relate to his family, particularly his two sons and their children. He also appears to be overtly racist, cynical and very old fashioned. Over the course of the film he becomes involved with the Hmong family living next door when the son tries to steel his car as part of a gang initiation. This in turn results in an unintentional good deed when repercussions of the failed initiation find their way onto Walt’s front lawn in the shape of the local gang. As Walt becomes more involved with his neighbours he realises the impact gangs are having on his Michigan neighbourhood. It is difficult to say more without giving away the entire plot but I can say you will not forget the ending!

So why is the film so good? Eastwood’s directing is taut and lean moving the story along quickly and amusingly at times. His performance is equally minimalist; why say anything when a growl will suffice! A perfect example is when his eldest son and daughter in law visits him on his birthday suggesting he moves to a retirement resort. A lesser director would have scripted a ten minute argument that would have been less effective than Clint’s growl and facial contortions followed by the guests leaving complaining that they can’t believe he threw them out on his birthday. Secondly the casting is first rate. Open castings were held calling for Hmong actors, most of the young actors where discovered this way and had never acted before including Thao (Bee Vang) and Sue (Ahney Her) who are both excellent. The film is far funnier than expected, possibly Clint’s funniest film. Watching in a busy cinema I can honestly say it got more laughs than most outright comedies I have seen recently! Finally the film has so much going on. It deals with life, death, love, loss, hate, age, race, religion and national identity.  And a final piece of trivia. Look out for Eastwood’s son Scott (credited as Scott Reeves) playing the hapless kid on a short lived date with Sue.

If this does turn out to be Clint’s last film he will be missed but this is truly a fitting farewell bow. Next Up Watchmen.

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