WolfmanOz at the Movies #95

The Man from Malpaso (Part 2).

Following on from last week’s post on Clint Eastwood where he had just starred and directed the superb western Pale Rider (1985). He followed this up in 1986 with directing and starring in the war drama Heartbreak Ridge where he played a U.S. marine gunnery sergeant nearing retirement.

The next few years were a relatively lean period for Eastwood. In 1988 he directed the biographical musical drama Bird about jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, which was critically lauded but failed to find an audience.

He followed this up in 1990 with the excellent adventure drama White Hunter Black Heart which is is a thinly disguised account of the filming of the 1951 classic The African Queen, which was filmed on location in Africa at a time when foreign location shoots for American films were rare. Eastwood’s performance as the director was a subtle take on John Huston who directed The African Queen. Again the film was well received by the critics but failed to generate an audience.

But it all came together for him in 1992 with the superlative western Unforgiven. The film tells the story of William Munny, an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job, years after he had turned to farming. The film co-starred Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris.

The film is primarily concerned with deconstructing the morally black-and-white vision of the American West which was established by traditional works in the genre, as the script is saturated with unnerving reminders of the now teetotal Munny’s own horrific past as a drunken murderer and gunfighter who is haunted by the lives he’s taken.

Unforgiven marked the first time Eastwood was nominated for Academy Awards – for Best Actor, Director and Film (as producer) where we won for Best Direction and Best Film, cementing the film as one of the great westerns.

The film was a key marker in Eastwood’s film career as going forward he concentrated more and more as being a film director rather than as an actor, although his following film In The Line Of Fire (1993) he was excellent as an aging Secret Service agent trying to prevent an assassination attempt on the U.S. President.

His next directorial effort was the under-rated A Perfect World (1993) where his role as a Texas Ranger was secondary to Kevin Costner’s role as an escaped convict.

In 1995 he directed and starred in The Bridges Of Madison County a lovely romantic drama co-starring Meryl Streep which he followed up in 1997 with directing Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, which although overlong, was an engrossing story, based on a true story, of a wealthy antiques dealer on trial for the murder of a male prostitute who was his lover.

Eastwood started the 2000s directing the hit Space Cowboys starring Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner as four older “ex-test pilots” who are sent into space to repair an old Soviet satellite.

In 2002 Eastwood directed and starred in Blood Work as a retired FBI agent. Although not a box office success it’s a film I have always enjoyed but it did lead to the start of a run of six superb films that truly cemented him as one of America’s great film directors.

Mystic River (2003) was a neo-noir crime drama starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney. The film is a deeply somber and quite a depressing drama that unfolds in layers and conveys the tragedy of its story with visceral power winning Academy Awards for Penn and Robbins with nominations for Eastwood as director and producer (Best Film).

Eastwood then directed and starred in the outstanding Million Dollar Baby (2004) a sports drama which follows an underdog amateur female boxer (Hilary Swank) who is helped by an under appreciated boxing trainer (Eastwood) to achieve her dream of becoming a professional.

Eastwood’s assured direction, combined with knockout performances from Hilary Swank and Clint himself, helped Million Dollar Baby to transcend its clichés, and the result is deeply heartfelt and moving film. The film won Eastwood his second Academy Award for Directing and also for Best Film, Actress (Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman). I’ve always felt this was Eastwood’s best acting performance and he was very unlucky not to take home the Best Actor award.

Incredibly, in 2006, Eastwood would remarkably go to direct back-to-back WWII films about the war in the Pacific in Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Flags Of Our Fathers is taken from the American viewpoint of the Battle of Iwo Jima, whilst Letters From Iwo Jima is from the Japanese viewpoint of the battle.

Then in 2008 Eastwood would then direct the film I regard as his directorial masterpiece in Changeling which is a story based on real-life events, specifically the 1928 Wineville Chicken Coop murders in Mira Loma, California. It stars Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins a woman united with a boy who she realises is not her missing son. When she tries to demonstrate that to the police and city authorities, she is vilified as delusional, labeled as an unfit mother and confined to a psychiatric ward. The film explored themes of child endangerment, female disempowerment, political corruption and mistreatment of mental health patients.

Eastwood respected the script by not playing to the melodramatic aspects and not telegraphing the story’s scope from the start. I should also add Eastwood even wrote the film’s haunting score.

Also in 2008 Eastwood directed and starred in Gran Torino playing Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean War veteran alienated from his family and angry at the world, whose young neighbour is pressured by his cousin into stealing Walt’s prized Ford Torino for his initiation into a gang. Walt thwarts the theft and subsequently develops a relationship with the boy and his family.

The film was huge box office success and again was a major critical success with Eastwood himself delivering another outstanding performance.

After this run of six films, Eastwood’s output in quality tended to drop off although he had a final critical and box office hit with American Sniper (2014) a biographical war drama film about Chris Kyle who became the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history with 255 kills from four tours in the Iraq War.

Otherwise his films in the last 15 years – Invictus, Hereafter, J. EdgarJersey Boys, Sully, The 15:17 To Paris, The Mule, Richard Jewell and Cry Macho have not hit the heights of his previous films, although I did enjoy The Mule.

Still going strong at 93, Eastwood is finishing directing Juror No. 2. Whether it becomes his swan song only time will tell but one thing is for sure – Clint Eastwood is one of the greatest ever movie stars to have graced the screen whilst being cinema’s greatest actor/director over a film career that has been going for over 60 years. Long may he continue.


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Fair Shake
Fair Shake
February 22, 2024 10:09 am

I really enjoyed Gran Torino and the Mule. But also liked Flags, American Sniper. I thought Clint was v good also in Trouble with the Curve.

Good post again, well done Wolfman.

February 22, 2024 11:26 am

Oi! 🙂

What about Play Misty for Me (1971), which he directed and starred in? One of my favourite Eastwood films, and I believe it did well at the box office.

I’ve seen it at least four times, and will watch it again next time it comes up on the teev.

More generally, your reviews highlight what a remarkably eclectic artist he is. A lot of directors tend to specialise in one or a few genres, but Eastwood seems to have had a crack at almost everything except sci fi. While not all his work was uniformly successful, AFAIK none of his films lost money, thanks to his thrifty approach to production, and several made a great deal of money.

He’s a one-off, that’s for sure. I can’t think of anyone in the history of film that compares to him in terms of quantity, quality and diversity of output.

Real Deal
Real Deal
February 22, 2024 11:46 am

Interestingly for television scifi fans, the screenplay for Changeling was written by J Michael Straczinski of Babylon 5 fame.

February 22, 2024 12:13 pm

Quite a remarkable catalogue when you list them out like that.

Truly one of Hollywood’s underrated directors.

February 22, 2024 3:46 pm

You specifically cut off your review of his career at 1985 last time.

If (as you say) you are reviewing his career post 1985, previous mentions of this or that are irrelevant. His career post 1985 includes Play Misty for Me.

Stop acting like a grumpy old Bill Collins.


Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
February 22, 2024 4:31 pm

Thanks for that Wolfman, a fine read! I think you’ve just demonstrated that Clint Eastwood is the greatest director of the modern era by a flying mile. Better than Spielberg. I’d forgotten about Space Cowboys – he could even do a really good science fiction thriller too!

Your two essays should get a wider reading. I’m sure Areff would be delighted to accept them for Quadrant for example.

February 22, 2024 4:44 pm

Your two essays should get a wider reading. I’m sure Areff would be delighted to accept them for Quadrant for example

It’d make a great discussion piece on Q – “Name the greatest movie director of the modern era in Hollywood”

February 22, 2024 5:34 pm

One of his best performances was the “Empty chair speech”.

Good read, Woolfie.

pete m
pete m
February 22, 2024 6:30 pm

jo – from the first post:

He had a monster hit co-starring with Richard Burton in the classic WWII adventure film Where Eagles Dare (1968) and he showed he could sing in the overblown musical Paint Your Wagon (1969) but Eastwood had an itch for directing and the opportunity soon presented it to him with Eastwood helming Play Misty For Me (1971), a coolly calculating psychological thriller that was a success both critically and commercially.

you owe wolfmanoz an apology

ps 1971 comes before 1985

February 22, 2024 7:59 pm

Heartbreak Ridge and Space Cowboys are my 2 favourites of this era. They, the original Dirty Harry and Every Which Way are watched at 3 or 4 times a year in this household

February 22, 2024 9:48 pm

Clint Eastwood is the greatest director of the modern era by a flying mile

although he completely outstrips him in volume, I’d argue Mel Gibson (of all people) is would have to be up there for greatest directors (from the West) in recent times.

The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto.. wow.

Bruce in WA
February 22, 2024 11:51 pm

I think one of the best pointers to his talents lie in the many, many and enduring quotes from his movies:

“A good man always knows his limitations.”

“Get off my lawn.”

“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawls at one time or another.”

“Go ahead, make my day.”

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

“Right turn, Clyde.”

“”Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a.44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?””

Hey, Wolfman, perhaps you could do a column on enduring quotes from movies? Any movie. (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”; “I’m the king of the world!”; “Here’s looking at you, kid.”; “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”; etc.)

Simon Morgan
Simon Morgan
March 4, 2024 9:55 pm

Some of his latest films have been poor imo. The Mule and Gran Torino were all too predictable and really, even with a gun, you couldn’t take a nonagenarian too seriously. He’s just way too old to act in movies like that.

The Bridges of Madison County was a wonderful love story, and heart-rending at the end as he she pulls away with her husband in the pouring rain. And the two WW2 films amazing. Cinema at it’s best.

The best western with him in the starring role was The Outlaw Josey Wales. And of course, I loved Rowdy Yates when I was a kid (showing my ages there!!).

He certainly is a great talent.

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