GROWLS AND ‘SWELLS’: AN ANALYSIS OF CLINT EASTWOOD (part 2)

| May 24, 2015

Clint Eastwood plays a film director in the film WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART

EPISODE 2: A GOAL DRIVEN MAN

The concept of ‘man on a mission” is not something our subject created, but Clint Eastwood approached the phrase with a unique elegance.

How else do we remember Clint if not as the man who would get the job done. In his 57 + film and TV career, he played a variation on the same theme more than once. The way he made it watchable for so many years can be found simply in the same reasons we still watch the works of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and even John Wayne; I speak of course of charisma. It’s fair to say that in essence Clint is one of the few people alive today that draws a crowd because of his personality and not because of what role he is playing. In consequence though, his acting seems to never have been taken as seriously as it should.

In rounding up our next batch of films, I found myself starting to examine “Clint the character,” and here you will see some interesting examples. His missions always varied; whether it was escaping from the most fortified prisons, running against the clock to save a man from death row, hunting a white elephant, or avenging his partners death with the help of Charlie “Winning” Sheen.

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

4 outta 4 Chrysanthemums

The Don Siegel Factor is one of the key elements to understanding the Eastwood Factor. This combination is a beautiful pairing, in the tradition of the other more publicized Director/Actor pair up’s. Siegel knew how to show off Clints finer attributes in a way that no other director really was able to while simultaneously creating a film that stands on its own two feet.

Escape From Alcatraz is one of those perfect moments of just the right story with the right people. Covering the only successful breakout from The Rock (no, not the Michael Bay movie, which really flatlines when you compare it to this) in history. Clint plays escapee Frank Morris and delivers an apt performance in the vein of a George Raft from his early Warner prison films, displaying a cool style with a dash of empathy. By the time we get to the escape scene itself, we are firmly established in our righteous concern for Morris to succeed. Our sympathy for his plight lies in our distaste for the warden of Alcatraz (Patrick McGoohan) who while not as vile as Bob Gunton in Shawshank, is cool and contemptuous. His villain is unique because he is pretty much just doing his job correctly and within the line of legal reason, even if he is a cruel horses ass, so its his indifference to
rehabilitation (the principle that a good jail might stand for) makes us root on as the chickens fly the coop (no, not Chicken Run, quit interrupting me).

Topped off with beautiful cinematography and a restrained score, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ is a must watch classic.

THE ROOKIE
2 outta 4 Broken Cigars

This film probably should have been called “Dammit Callahan”, but this a post -Dirty Harry world where THE DEAD POOL was caput for everyones favorite Cop on the edge. Instead we get something both recycled and unique at the same time.

Writers Boaz Yakin and Scott Spiegel did something special here where they made “Cliche: the Motion Picture” and got Eastwood to direct and star in it. So yes, you’ll hear all the classic favorites, all slickly paced and stylishly directed. Hell, you even get Clint Eastwood doing a parody of Clint Eastwood in the film, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it…..

But when you drag it out over two hours, it can get a bit overwhelming, and top that with villains that were torn out of the phone book (Raul Julia has very little fun here), you do tend to miss the point of being anything more than just a movie for Spike TV reruns.

And I say this all like its bad, but honestly do yourself a favor and watch this at least once. It’s probably the closest thing in tone any Simpsons fan will get to seeing a live action McBain movie.


WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART

4 outta 4 Elephants.

Clints directorial work has generally wrapped up on a hopeful note, but always with the sense of “at what costs?” Then there are films (ala Mystic River) where Clint forces us to sit down on a very dark conclusion and ponder it the same way we ponder our own behavior. Its a talent that shines through phenomenally in White Hunter, Black Heart.

Clint plays a John Huston type filmmaker out to make a movie about the courageous acts on a river boat during WWI (The plot is lifted from a fictionalized account of the making of THE AFRICAN QUEEN), but before he shoots a frame, he wants to fulfill his desire to hunt down a White Elephant. In the film, he describes his reason as him wanting to commit not a crime but a sin. In this block of dialogue, his entire character is thrown into the dark realm of obsession that drives his mind. By the time the film ends, we the audience are left not knowing how we should feel about Clint without stepping back and ask ourselves how far we would go with our own obsessions. To tie it into the setting of film production is just a bonus goodie for any filmmaker.

This is probably the bravest role he’s tackled, and without being filled with violence, ends up becoming the most thought provoking film he directed before Mystic River or even American Sniper. Its an utter masterpiece and something that any film scholar might want to examine closely.

TRUE CRIME

3 outta 4 Hippopotamuses

At first glance, one can look at True Crime as an idyllic version of Tim Robbins DEAD MAN WALKING (which had been released 4 years earlier). The story of the attempt to save a man from death row, while educating the viewer on the process of execution.

But there is something admirable about this films attempt to blend social commentary (regardless on which stand you take on the death penalty) with an intriguing race against the clock thriller. Clint plays a loose, off the cuff investigative reporter who is handed an assignment to cover an execution that evening only to find the facts of the crime don’t add up. Off he goes on a journey to find the real killer as he simultaneously comes to terms with his behavior as a parent (the funniest scene in the film involves a speedy trip he takes with his daughter to the zoo that the internet now calls “Speed Zoo”), his behavior as a co worker (He bangs Denis Learys wife in the film), and his ability to stay sober.

And there is something admirable because the film stays consistently entertaining despite it’s heavy handed side, with some powerful acting from Isaiah Washington as the convicted killer. It’s an interesting gem and worth a peek, if not to see where Clint was as the 90’s drew to a close.

8 films down, 49 to go. The journey has been interesting so far, and it can only get more interesting from here as we delve deeper into the man with the notable snarl.

Note: This article is dedicated to Christian Stephans, who passed away last night. I will miss you sir, thanks for the encouragement and the screenings of There Will Be Blood.

About the Author:

Zach Eastman is the filmmaker responsible for films such as TWOMBLEY (Starz Film Festival 2012 Official Selection) and THE BOY WHO STARES. He is also the producer of Matty O Connor's film GUNS DRUGS AND SYNERGY, Adam Jewels award winning film THE ZONE, and Tony Grosz's TWO YEARS SINCE FRIDAY. He has been a frequent guest on REEL NERDS PODCAST and now is one of their contributors.
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