GROWLS AND ‘SWELLS’: AN ANALYSIS OF CLINT EASTWOOD (PART 5)

| June 8, 2015

EPISODE 5: BASED ON A TRUE STORY

It was bound to happen folks. I could not avoid it for long. We found a group of films that DON’T… HAVE… CLINT!

(Cue Dramatic Look Gopher or whatever this generation uses as it’s cue of suspense)

Granted, 2 of the films in Episode Three did not have Clint in them, but now they take up an entire article.

As it turns out, these films share a common thread: inspired by true events. When it comes to biopics and true life stories, Clint has managed to show off what he can do without his charisma in front of the camera. In these, as with any of his off screen endeavors, he shows a distinct style thats driven toward what can either be described as ‘new wave noir’ or ‘melodrama throwback in glorious technicolor.’ Regardless of the label, Clints visual style is enticing and at many times downright brilliant in its simplicity and use of shadows. He brings an air of mystery to the proceedings, and in the case of these films manages to provide true suspense out of something where the ending is widely known going in. He paints a rather interesting view of history that has surprising amount of balance if you sit down and watch the film without any prior convictions going in, and if you do have said convictions he still manages to present both sides in a fair light.

So join us as we explore the exploits of an FBI director, a South African President, an oppressed mother who’s child is missing, an affluent and shady antiques dealer, and an American hero…. These are, as Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts ma’am.”

(Cue Dragnet theme)

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INVICTUS

3 outta 4 Rugby balls

A film about Nelson Mandela seems like a better fit in the form of what eventually was made into the superb 2013 film LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.
Still, INVICTUS provides a different and in many ways more intriguing look at Mandela from a character stand point. How does this man whos journey landed him in prison then brought him to the presidency of South Africa affect him in the retrospect. What has Mandela lost in the long struggle for equality? What convinces him that a rugby match is the important lynchpin in uniting the country? What drives him to the decisions he makes?. You could answer all these rather simply, but the way Morgan Freeman plays Mandela one is more content and thrilled to watch him act it out then be handed a some bullet points on a napkin.

The films carries around an extreme amount of uplifting music laden across the Rugby matches and while not a big problem, probably would have been better in scarce use. It suffers the same problem that any true story faces: we know it turns out all right. So its really about building the tension rather than relying on too many uplifting moments. The strongest points in the film are when everything seems its darkest and we see Freeman and Damon really dig into the heart of the matter, which seems to be only shown in quick montage rather than more elaborated moments of reflection. You do really want to understand the tension in South Africa in addition to the inspiring Rugby game.

But, beggars cant be choosers, and INVICTUS is still a worthy watch with great performances and a wonderful heart that Clint beautifully brings to life on the screen.

J.EDGAR

3 outta 4 G-Men Badges in every box of Post Toasties

Leonardo DiCaprio has made a solid career of portraying real life figures after breaking free of the constraints of heartthrob of the moment. In an eloquent and stunning stretch he has played Frank Abignale Jr., Howard Hughes, and Jordan Belfort, and soon he will play fur trapper Hugh Glass.

Then theres the one people like to forget about… The one with the “interesting make up”.

J. EDGAR stands on a strong biopic premise that aptly covers the life and significant events of the controversial FBI Director who essentially brought criminal investigation into the realms of science and technology to aid in the catching of criminals while also running around believing that Bolshevik Communists would tear our country apart.

The film has two hiccups: the smaller one you dont notice off hand is the difficulty at times to find out if it wants to demonize Edgar or find sympathy and heroism in his story. Its a very difficult balancing act that divides generations, which while bold also nearly looses it’s footing. The second hiccup that everyone hears and says “Hey pal, want me to scare you so they’ll go away” is the old age make up on Leo and Armie Hammer. No matter how realistic it looks, it detracts from getting a good facial response from the actors delivering very powerful material dealing with Edgar and Tolson.

Still, the performances sell the film, and in a testament to Clints directorial approach, he lets the actors go into a very intriguing grey area where the audience has to decide where their sympathy is going to lie emotionally rather than politically. Leos performance is good and further shows that he deserves his mantle in the top tier of dramatic actors.

Props also go to the script by Dustin Lance Black, who’s clever writing addresses the subject with elegance and poise rather than typical “corrupt guy” movie.

CHANGELING

4 outta 4 Counts of Fuck Da Police

Gone is purely great ‘weepy’ in the US, so much so that when it succeeds, it gets relegated to the league of its inferior brothers and sisters. Some recent attempts fail to capture pure honesty and frustration out of its audience because they fall back on safe choices.

If there is one fault in Changeling, Im not seeing it. From the opening archived Universal logo and the dissolve from black and white to color, Clint Eastwood is aptly pointing us to a salute to the heartbreaking and frustrating dramas of the 40s, and for all but a few shots he succeeds in creating the closest modern day equivalent to those “Weepies” of the 30s and 40s. The cinematography, set well against the very dark and disturbing plot, never captures terrible acts. Rather it relies on a sort of Hays code restriction that forces us to merely imagine the worst rather than see it (save for flashes of violence that barely go beyond a quick cut of a bloody axe being lifted upward). Clints choices in the film are absolutely astounding.

The story follows Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) searching for her son. When the LAPD returns mother to son there is a problem: they did not bring back the right child. This sets a story into motion that deals with police corruption, female disempowerment, male chauvinism, and ultimately terrible reality. The writer is J. Michael Stracyzinski. He has a background of film and comic book writing. There are elements of both through key monologues and characterizations where the line is clearly drawn between the persecuted and the corrupt. Its a move that never fumbles through even the very scarce over the top moments .

As for Jolie? I can not understate how powerful she is, bringing all the pure and utter horror and tragedy of a parent with a missing child without over doing it is a tough job that she handles with ease.

It’s a film that received mediocre acclaim upon release, but not even 7 years of time to ponder has seem to have convinced any one in this country of the films brilliance. Europe seems to get it though, as they usually do.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL

4 outta 4 Mint Juleps

Imagine a world where this film got a lot more credit than it initially received…. Im serious, do it, because that is the type of world I’d like to live in.

MIDNIGHT tells the true life story of the trials of Jim Williams, who was eventually acquitted of murder.

Its premise is simple but it’s setting, characters, and execution are not. Clint paints a portrait of the south that seems like the oddest of wonderlands filled with absolute focus on how the town functions and deals with mundane local gossip and questions of morality. Amidst this, he piles on a nice layer of spiritual nature that puts everyone on screen in a realm far beyond the constraints of a typical courtroom drama.

Adapting the books sense of humor amidst a dark situation is a huge gamble, a gamble that films FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS took when lifting liberally from the source material. The gamble pays off in strides in one goes in with an open mind.

It is a film that really asks you, the viewer, to step beyond its simple crime and explore the environment; described thusly by John Cusack as, “Gone With The Wind on mescaline.”

With any adaptation as prolific as this, there is room for dismissal. However MIDNIGHT (now approaching its 20th anniversary) must be left to the judgement of todays audience, which in the wake of the post-theatrical love of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS might find charm and spellbound notions in this fascinating motion picture.

AMERICAN SNIPER

3.5 outta 4 Plastic Babies

The amount of controversy surrounding the most current Clint Eastwood directorial effort seems steeped in a national desire to pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight to garner political points on either side. Clints films will do that sometimes. The same attitude faced MILLION DOLLAR BABY back in 2004.

Regardless of any opinion within the realms of politics or patriotism, AMERICAN SNIPER is a damn powerful film that’s heart doesnt lie in what the rhetoric pundits dish out on. The film is about PTSD in the long run, and it does an amazing job of showing the small details that soldiers face with this affliction. In an incredible scene, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) pounds hard on the glass of the room full of new arrivals, attempting to get the nurses to attend to his newborn daughter. It is a tense moment that says more than any monologue can on the subject of PTSD.

As for the war element… Well we are thrown into Kyles perspective, which indicates that we do need to step into shoes that feel uncomfortable, but you also see him through a transformation that is enticing to watch Bradley Cooper pull off with grace and grit.

There are really only two flaws with the films over all execution: a) it may have been best to show just a little more of the civilian life, even if that meant a 3 hour film (id easily sit down for it).
and b)….. That plastic baby…. I… If you…. And other thing…… ITS A PLASTIC BABY!!!!!

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Man, you’d think this would all be getting old after 21 films. But we still got 36 more films to go. The only thing that will be getting old will be Clint himself, as next article we will tackle his recent status as resident grumpy old man.

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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