Clint Eastwood in the 21st Century

Having shot to stardom as ‘the Man with No Name’ in Sergio Leone’s fantastically stylistic Spaghetti Westerns (so called because they were shot in Mediterranean Europe rather than America,) Clint Eastwood went on to star in many more Westerns. His on screen tough-guy persona became his trademark and with it he fit the Western genre like a glove, featuring in films such as The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales and more recently, Unforgiven (1992). Having largely abandoned the Western genre since the millennium, he has diversified both as an actor and as a director- we’re putting Eastwood’s 21st century contributions under the microscope.

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The un-remarkable, Play Misty for Me (1971,) was Eastwood’s first film in the Director’s seat, but as a Director Eastwood went from strength to strength. Since 2000 Eastwood has been involved in 16 films, directing 13 of them and only acting in 6. His career has definitely taken a directorial turn, (which is un-surprising, given that he’s 85 years old). Highlights of Eastwood’s more recent directorial work include Gran Torino, American Sniper, Invictus, Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Essentially Eastwood’s work since 2000 has shown him to be much more than a ‘one trick pony’.

American Sniper (2014,) Eastwood’s most recent and most financially successful film, notably stole Saving Private Ryan’s crown as the highest grossing war film of all time. A beefed up Bradley Cooper shines in his role as US Navy Seal, Chris Kyle, whose autobiography of the same title inspired the film. Kyle was the most deadly in US military history but his successful career took a heavy toll on his personal life and his relationships with his family. Sienna Miller co-stars as Kyle’s wife and the tension that builds in their relationship makes for a superbly crafted back-story. The action too is strong though and tension in combat scenes is augmented by the steady reminders of the worry plaguing Kyle’s family. Controversially some artistic license was used in the making of the film, some scenes bear no resemblance to Kyle’s memoires. Overall though, American Sniper is highly recommendable and its intelligent portrayal of the disparity between military success and family life further showcased Clint Eastwood’s ability to effectively diversify as a Director.

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2008’s Gran Torino both starred and was directed by Eastwood- one of the most remarkable additions to his filmography as a whole the film follows Walt Kowalski, a widowed Korean War veteran, his relationship with his Hmong-American neighbours and the over-arching threat of gang violence that erupts in the area. The film feels partly like a statement from Eastwood in that, despite the gang factor, the film is not action driven- instead relationships and character development come to the fore. The lurking threat of the gang though remains potent through-out and is an effective tool in providing nail biting tension. Eastwood himself excels as Walt in-front of the camera just as much as he does while directing behind it and his portrayal of a man who is simultaneously powerful (as an armed war veteran and protector of his neighbourhood,) and powerless (in his old age,) is poignant and touching as well as delivering adrenaline pumping moments.

The lurking threat of the gang remains potent through-out and is an effective tool in providing nail biting tension.

Essentially Eastwood’s work since 2000 has shown him to be much more than a ‘one trick pony’ for Westerns and action. 2011’s J. Edgar was another prime example of this, rather than portraying J. Edgar Hoover as the scourge of organised crime he was shown more holistically and again, action was not the driving force of the film. In his moves from biopic drama (J.Edgar,) to war film (American Sniper, Letters from Iwo Jima,) to what is essentially a tragic drama, in Gran Torino, Eastwood has adapted perfectly to provide cutting edge, modern cinema. Not to mention inspiring political story, Invictus and the unique, Million Dollar Baby. The thing that is constant through-out Eastwood’s recent cinematic offering is un-questionable quality, of course Eastwood has had his blips, arguably the poorly received Jersey Boys, was one of those, but overall his offering is as good as it’s ever been, if not better.

By George Storr

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