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The Films Of Clint Eastwood, Director: A Retrospective

Features
by The Playlist Staff
October 22, 2010 6:38 AM
11 Comments
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"Changeling" (2008)
Sweet Lord, was there ever a more depressing film in the history of cinema than this vehicle for Angelina “stop trying so hard, love, you’re bound to win Best Actress sooner or later” Jolie? For those who don’t know, and probably spent their time doing something more joyous like filling out tax returns or having their dog put down, the based-on-a-true-story plot revolves around a single mother who does not believe the boy claiming to be her lost son is in fact her missing child. Pitted against the authorities who just want the case closed, she is ultimately committed to an insane asylum, before eventually being vindicated, if that’s the right word, by the discovery of the actual hideous fate of her son. It is not a bad film – not incompetently made, shot, or acted, but in offering us no redemption, no catharsis and none of the retrospective wisdom that surely the intervening years should have lent, it ends up little more than an almost fetishistically cataloged litany of this poor woman’s ordeals. As such it is a wholly masochistic experience: for Jolie, reliving the trauma for (presumably) take after take, for Eastwood attempting to ‘do the story justice’ by refusing to leaven it with even a flash of humor or a moment of levity, and most of all for the viewer, who, for all the good intentions on display will afterward feel rather like they’ve just watched two and half hours of torture porn. Seriously, unless you crave a dull headache and a feeling of misanthropic gloom that will last for days, avoid. [D]

"Gran Torino" (2008) Kevin
On the face of it Clint Eastwood’s most recent and probably last starring role, found him playfully taking the piss out of his macho on-screen persona (if there was an Academy Award for Best Growling, Clint Eastwood would’ve locked it up). In “Gran Torino,” what looks on the surface to be a straightforward “racist-guy-learns-to-love” film turns out be something both more simplistic and more complicated than that. Clint's character is less of a racist than an all around equal opportunity asshole, and even as he befriends the foreign neighbors that initially drive him bananas, he doesn't suddenly stop using racial slurs or really change much of his attitude. They earn his respect and in turn, he earns theirs. To its credit, the film very carefully navigates some pretty difficult racial and political territory without ever going to the pulpit, and the script earns its emotional punch. That said, this B-level material for Eastwood (it's essentially a smarter than usual vengeance pic) that doesn’t make any mistakes about where its going in the last part of the film, delivering the weepy ending that seems to be Clint’s specialty, particularly in his late career films. No, its not perfect, but its certainly far more enjoyable and insightful than you might expect. Though hampered by truly bad acting by the supporting cast (particularly Bee Vang, who played Thao), “Gran Torino” earns its stripes by delivering the goods and taking some unexpected, and refreshing detours along the way. [B]

"Invictus" (2009) Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela? Well, there’s something that was always gonna happen. It's just a shame that this perfect, inevitable casting was wasted on such a lackluster film. Part underdog-sports-fable, part political history, out of all the fascinating stories that comprise South Africa's recent past, “Invictus” tells the ‘true life’ tale of Mandela inspiring and encouraging the (predominately white) South African rugby team to an unlikely World Cup victory. It's a bizarre choice for director Eastwood, who wouldn't be known for his rugby fascination, and frankly, it smacks of a cart-before-horse, "I wanna work with Freeman again, I want him to play Mandela, now what projects are there knocking around?"-type decision. Directorial motives aside, the film is really most remarkable for Matt Damon's performance - he brings a subtlety and depth to a character who is pretty reactionary by Hollywood hero standards, and convinces physically as a rugby captain: even his accent is flawless. But what does it say about the film that it's Damon, and not Freeman-as-Mandela who is the most memorable thing in it? As ever, Eastwood is restrained and even-handed to a fault -- no seriously, it's a fault here, the film could do with some good, old-fashioned bias to shake it out of its stupor. Instead, it is stately, respectful and loaded with gravitas (a word that Freeman could surely trademark by now), but in aiming for ‘important’ it lands wide of the mark at ‘worthy’ instead. But perhaps even that could be forgiven if we weren’t so distracted by the specters of much more interesting untold stories that lurk around its edges. [C]

"Hereafter" (2010)
To essentially paraphrase (or simply rip-off) a brilliant Time Out Review that feels like it was written in our brain before we had a chance to pen it, Eastwood’s strengths -- his easy-going approach, his simple clean and natural shooting/editing style -- are his weaknesses in this painfully listless supernatural thriller about near-death experiences. Another major deficiency is Eastwood’s unfussy mien. Peter Morgan has already stated that he was surprised to no end when he heard that Eastwood was going into production with what he considered a rough first draft and it shows. While an interesting premise, the picture never gelled or had much of a driving narrative on the page and the film is equally purposeless and seemingly uninterested in its own content. A puffy (and humorless) Matt Damon sleepwalks through his performance as a reluctant clairvoyant (the romance with Bryce Dallas Howard is so half-hearted you wonder why it's even there) and the picture demonstrates little forward momentum. Irresponsibly unengaging and dull as a rubber knife, the film isn’t bad per se, but acts like a warmly-temperatured room that will likely lull you to sleep. Ironically, this quiet meditation about life and death barely registers a pulse throughout and is essentially lifeless. One of Eastwood’s biggest misfires in a while. [D]

-- Kevin Jagernauth, Drew Taylor, Oli Lyttelton, Katie Walsh, Sam C. Mac, Jessica Kiang, Mark Zhuravsky, Rodrigo Perez

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11 Comments

  • RNL | June 21, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    That Changeling writeup is very silly, guys. Has the writer never seen a solemn film about serious issues before? Bergman, Dreyer, Bresson, etc? Not exactly a laced with comic relief, were they?

  • Marrz | February 22, 2014 9:06 PMReply

    You guys don't know what Eastwood's cinema is all about.

  • functional | October 24, 2010 12:59 PMReply

    GREAT retrospective, everyone! I love these articles so much. Don't agree 110% on all of the grades, but it made me add a bunch of unseen jawns to my Netflix list.

  • TheoC | October 24, 2010 5:45 AMReply

    Great read, now I really want to see The Gauntlet. I do have a soft spot for the absolute stupidity of absolute power though.

  • KitCon | October 24, 2010 1:11 AMReply

    While Changeling should have ended earlier, I thought it was a much better movie overall than Gran Torino. I also like Letters from Iwo Jima and thought it was original and insightful.

  • MishuPishu | October 23, 2010 6:08 AMReply

    Thank goodness someone recognized the wonderful nature of "A Perfect World". Loved that movie when it came out but it got such bad press that I began to question my perspective on film.

  • Brett | October 23, 2010 2:49 AMReply

    Knocking Changeling for not providing humor? Jeez, I could say the same thing about Schindler's List I guess.

  • cirkusfolk | October 23, 2010 2:48 AMReply

    I think the grades for The Changeling and Gran Torino should be switched. Torino was dreadfully cheesy and since when should a movie about a child serial killer be humorous?

  • Rashad | October 23, 2010 1:53 AMReply

    Changeling a D?

    Oh my word

  • John Bury | October 22, 2010 10:40 AMReply

    Eastwood is a master craftsman. Even when cliched and unsubstantial, his films are almost always totally watchable. He knows how to tell a story, which I think is worth more than it's given credit for these days. The arthouse too often overlooks it, and Hollywood by and large seems not even to grasp the concept. He may not be a Frank Gehry, but Eastwood builds sturdy, comfortable houses for the average moviegoer to live in for a couple hours.

    And while I agree with you that Unforgiven is his peak, I'm with Ryan that "Letters" deserves much better.

  • Ryan M., Atlanta Movies Examiner | October 22, 2010 10:03 AMReply

    First, full credit for recognizing "A Perfect World" as Eastwood's second masterpiece behind "Unforgiven."

    Second, "Letters from Iwo Jima" is easily one of the best war films ever made, and its "C-" rating here is less believable that Jeff Daniels' serial killer in "Blood Work."

    Finally, though I probably would have had the same rating for "White Hunter, Black Heart" after my first viewing, subsequent viewing have moved it up considerably in my estimation, and I now consider it a great film to stand along Eastwood's best.

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