Anatomy Of A Director: Clint Eastwood
Hollywood is a brutal, unforgiving place, most people who make a living there consider themselves lucky if they get a decade’s worth of work out of the place, some get 20 years, some even get 30, it’s unheard of to get 60 years, but that’s what Clint Eastwood celebrates this year.
He made his acting debut back in 1955 as a lab technician in Revenge of the Creature, the little known sequel to Creature From The Black Lagoon. He didn’t even get a credit for that role, but he’s come a long, long way since then.
After a glittering career starring in iconic movies like Where Eagles Dare, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and A Fistful Of Dollars, Eastwood began directing in 1971 and he’s balanced being behind and in front of the camera ever since. He’s since gone on to make classics like Dirty Harry and In The Line Of Fire, but in recent years it’s as a director that Eastwood has focused his efforts.
As his latest smash hit American Sniper (more on that below) hits DVD shelves, we thought we’d take the opportunity to revisit some of his stone cold classics and celebrate his career. For the sake of argument, this is Clint Eastwood the director, not Clint Eastwood the actor. Turns out he’s quite good at both, here’s an anatomy of his career…
Raw Beginnings: Play Misty For Me
Eastwood had been acting for 16 years before he decided to try his hand at directing with 1971’s terrifying thriller Play Misty For Me. As well as directing he also stars as David Garver, a smooth-talking radio DJ with a dedicated following. After his show one night he meets Evelyn, a woman who regularly calls in and asks him to play the jazz standard ‘Misty’, the two hit it off and begin a casual relationship. But, after a while, Evelyn becomes obsessive and her increasingly erratic behaviour leads Garver to try and end things. Trouble is, she isn’t giving up so easily and begins to turn psychotic.
A tense thriller with Jessica Walter giving a magnificently scary performance as Evelyn, this is every bit as nail-chewingly frightening as it was on release. You’ll never be able to hear the phrase “Play Misty For Me” again without shuddering…
Big Break: Unforgiven
In the years after Play Misty For Me, Eastwood continued to direct, mainly making Westerns like The Outlaw Josey Wales and Bronco Billy, but the film that established him as a Hollywood big-hitter was 1992’s Unforgiven.
Again Eastwood stars and is joined by Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris in this gritty Western. Eastwood plays Bill Munny, a veteran gunslinger who is dragged out of retirement for one last job, a job that proves to be far, far more difficult than he ever imagined.
A proper dust in throat Western, but with all the style and pace of a sleek thriller, the film walked away with four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, Best Film Editing and earned Eastwood his first gong for Best Director. It’s still a stone-cold classic.
Their Finest Hour: Million Dollar Baby
Four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Hilary Swank and another Best Director award for Eastwood, over $215 million in box office receipts and universal acclaim from critics, 2004’s Million Dollar Baby is about as good as it gets for any director.
This time Eastwood casts himself as grizzled and cantankerous boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, beaten up by life and estranged from his daughter, he grunts and snarls his way through each and every day, until Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) walks into his gym and wants him to train her. Initially he refuses, but eventually accepts and leads her on a journey from a no hoper to a fight worth millions of dollars.
A rag to riches story with a dynamite script from Paul Haggis, this is what Eastwood does best, graft, sweat and hope all mixed together, it’s a proper muscular drama and still an essential watch.
Bump In The Road: Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil
Even the best don’t get it right all the time and Eastwood’s 1997 adaptation of John Berendt’s novel is one such example. Despite having a cast that included Kevin Spacey and John Cusack, the book’s mystical power and intoxicating storyline got a little lost in translation and what came out on screen was an over the top Murder She Wrote style story. Oh well.
Still On Top: American Sniper
Eastwood has never shied away from controversy or from depicting real life events and he got a whole lot of both with his latest release.
The film chronicles the life of Chris Kyle, the man credited as the deadliest sniper in the history of the U.S military with 255 reported kills on his record. We follow Kyle through a series of brutal tours of duty, into the dust and squalor of wartime Iraq and then we see him at home, trying to play husband to wife Taya (a stand-out performance from Sienna Miller) and father to his children. Trouble is, like a lot of soldiers, he finds settling back into normal life much harder than he imagines.
As it turned out, the film was a triumph. It took almost $600 million at the box office, six Oscar nominations (it ended up taking home the prize for Best Sound Editing) and drew rave reviews. A times a full on action thriller, at others a tense, but touching drama, this is vintage Eastwood, it’s tough, but soft-hearted. Brutal, but tender, it sums his career in film up perfectly.
American Sniper is released on DVD, Blu-Ray and an exclusive hmv steelbook today (June 1st).