Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? At the peak of his acting career Clint Eastwood was gifted the chance to direct a few scenes on the set of Dirty Harry, when Don Siegel fell ill. Clint had always wanted to direct since his early days in the TV series Rawhide, craving the artistic freedom honed from a prior 26 years of acting experience under a plethora of directors. Having gotten comfortable in the director’s chair, he never looked back.
To date Clint Eastwood has directed 34 films, from his début Play Misty for Me, up to his most recent and perhaps most controversial, the Iraq War drama American Sniper. However Clint has stayed true to his acting origins, playing the lead role in 21 of them. His directorial career already spanning 44 years continues to grow as the 85 year old is set to direct Miracle on the Hudson River, dramatizing the goose-induced crash landing, carried out by Captain Chesley Sullenberge ‘Sully’ saving 155 passengers.
Born in San Francisco in 1930, Clint Eastwood has gone through a variety of transformations from ponchoed spaghetti western hero, to the original maverick detective, founding an entire new genre of police films. In recent years he’s transformed again to become better known as director, and has even completed a 2 year term as the non-partisan mayor of Carmel-By-The-Sea, California. His work has been critically received with hundreds of awards, including Oscars for best director of both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Naturally this career has covered many cinematic genres, from the darker themes of suicide and war, to more uplifting portrayals of religion, hope and human kindness, like his recent box office success Gran Torino.
It still feels strange to write about Clint Eastwood without focusing on his earlier acting roles, but ultimately his acting and directing have merged, building off each other. Though broad, his style focuses on character driven films supported by close ups and well-constructed dialogues. The storylines are often simplistic, yet effect linear progressions with only subtle cinematic effects, maintaining the true-to-life illusion. He has drawn from a wide range of directors and supporting actors, even Clyde the orang-utan, who Eastwood has famously described as “one of the most natural actors I ever worked with.”
Below we’ll take a close look at three of his most recognised films. As always it’s a hard choice with plenty of others like Mystic River, Unforgiven, and Flags of our Fathers all meriting analysis of their unique and varied styles.
Written by: Paul Haggis
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Cinematography: Tom Stern
On the surface, Million Dollar Baby sounds like any other underdog sports dramas. It centres around wannabe boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, a woman considered too old and inexperienced to enter the ring. So Maggie (feistily played by Hilary Swank) seeks help from haunted and cantankerous boxing trainer, Frankie Dunn, one of Eastwood’s most complex characters. Frankie’s layers of persona are slowly stacked and mixed up, like a deck of playing cards, as the film progresses. This character evolution is supported through his assistant and former boxer, played by Morgan Freeman, who also appeared in Eastwood’s other Oscar winner, Unforgiven.
Set in a dank Rocky-esque gym, the cinematography creates a sombre real life feel, with filters darker and grainer than Eastwoods own voice. Eastwood also composed the music score, adding to the intensity and foreboding atmosphere. Rarely can a films mood change so convincingly and dramatically. For such a simple premise the film has a lot of depth and heavy moral weight. Capturing the audience with its guard down has allowed this film to make such a big hit, with an impressive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Written by: Nick Schenk
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Christopher Carley
Cinematography: Thom Stern
Gran Torino is a typical Clint Eastwood film. It has both comic and serious aspects, with a refreshingly flawed leading character in Walt Kowalski, an alienated and slightly racist veteran. The title alludes to his prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino which is eyed up by Thao, one of the Hmong youth living on the run down estate. Despite the attempted theft, Walt develops an almost fatherly friendship with Thao after an act of penance. This relationship grows predictively but endearingly as the film explores aspects of culture, religion, mortality, and the social scars of war.
The film tackles cultural prejudice through Walt’s journey of acceptance and is the first film to use an extensive Hmong cast, who are excellent at creating an authentic atmosphere through improvised acting. The Gran Torino car, rarely featured, represents the culmination and achievement of a man’s life, which transits from a dormant relic, into a gesture of trust and responsibility for future generations.
Written by: Jason Hall
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Cinematography: Tom Stern
American sniper is one of the few major films directed by Clint Eastwood where he does not take on an acting role. It is a biographical drama of the Iraq war, telling the story of Chris Kyle, an American marksman with 160 officially confirmed kills. Kyle is expertly portrayed by Bradley Cooper, as a lethal marksman torn between taking and saving lives. Resulting in a fragile character struggling to live and support his family between his 4 tours of duty.
Reviews are mixed, partly from the controversial troubled and unsettling nature of the film, but it sustains a very reasonable 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. In essence it’s a traditional spaghetti western dressed up in a modern army uniform. Following Eastwood’s specialist formula mixing long shots and close up cinematography to follow one anti-hero, with an emphasis on death to promote Eastwood’s anti-war beliefs.
Other must see films both directed by and starring Clint Eastwood include:
Flags of our Fathers, Dirty Harry, Mystic River and Unforgiven. Get 20 of his films in our directors collection Blu-ray box set.