Saturday, June 13, 2009
Clint Eastwood started as an actor on TV's Gunsmoke. Boyishly handsome, he stood out. He grew to manhood and stardom in Sergio Leone's "Dollars trilogy" with A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He was the man with no name and an international player, but he wasn't especially well-respected. There was little to suggest the things to come. Then, in the 70's, Clint Eastwood the icon arrived in the form of Dirty Harry Callahan. Dirty Harry was an uncommonly primal cop film. It inspired a legion of inferior spinoffs and provoked us with a brand of justice that wasn't simply black and white. Eastwood made four other Dirty Harry pictures, each based on hot-button, morally provocative, situations. They were slickly made and unabashedly exploitative. They worked...well, all but The Dead Pool.
Clint climbed into the director's chair for Sudden Impact, the most complex film in the series. Throughout the 70's and 80's he continued to top himself, delivering high-octane entertainment in various action and suspense thrillers. He toyed with audience perceptions by befriending a monkey in Every Which Way But Loose and putting the cowboy hat back on in The Outlaw Josey Wales. Just as he started to catch fire, he would reinvent himself -- restless for new creative challenges.
Now at age 79, Clint has become one of the most talked about American directors. His last two films, Changeling and Gran Torino, both released last year, are among his very best and he shows no signs of slowing down. Since Unforgiven, his greatest film, Clint has assembled a remarkably diverse and consistent filmography. Several films have entered the cinematic pantheon (A Perfect World, The Bridges of Madison County, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima). As a director, his work is sobering, honest and authentic. Some of his films suffer from sluggish pacing and an obvious didacticism, but even his misfires offer compelling themes and uncommonly intimate acting. Clint is a keen student of the human condition. He probes deeply into the fabric of society, without ever drifting into pretension or stylistic excess. Could he be one of our greatest living directors?