Clint Eastwood turns 88: Oscar-winning director's diverse body of work is a testament to his versatitlity
In the last 50 years, Clint Eastwood has averaged at least one film a year whether it’s acting or directing.
According to cinema folklore, Clint Eastwood never says ‘action’ or ‘cut’ while directing actors. When it comes to Eastwood, there could be numerous cues for an actor — ranging from a barely audible ‘okay’ to something more precise as ‘go ahead’ — but at the time of stopping a shot, it’s usually ‘that’s enough of that.’ The manner in which Eastwood helms a film also reveals the cinematic icon’s penchant for carrying on in life.
The two-time Oscar-winning director continues to push the envelope and shows no signs of slowing down even as he turns 88. A few months ago, Eastwood surprised both critics and audiences alike with his 15:17 to Paris where he got three real-life non-actors to portray themselves on screen and while the reactions ranged from awe to shock, the actor-director has already moved on to his next project. Eastwood is all set to feature both behind as well as in front of the camera on The Mule, where he will be playing a 90-year-old World War II veteran who becomes a drug courier for Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Arrested in 2014 in Michigan by the DEA for carrying $3 million worth of cocaine, Leo Sharp was sentenced to three years after his lawyer claimed that Sharp suffered from dementia, which was responsible for making the old man take the wrong path in life.
The last time Eastwood played the lead was in Trouble With the Curve (2012) but it was the 2008 drama Gran Torino that left a lasting impression on audiences. The actor played Walt Kowalski, a Polish-American Korean War veteran, who overcomes his own racist streak as he helps a younger neighbour reform himself. Kowalski was also reminiscent of one of Eastwood’s greatest onscreen avatars, Harold ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan, and Gran Torino looked almost like an unofficial sequel to Dirty Harry. But unlike the predominantly violent series that spawned five films, Gran Torino was also heart-warming and poignant despite having its fair share of violence; Kowalski is angry with the world and estranged from his family but warms up to his Hmong-American neighbours. The film ends in a bloodbath with Walt saving the family from the ruthless gang.
Counted amongst the most prolific filmmakers in the world, what makes Eastwood exceptional is the range of his body of work. In the last 50 years, Eastwood has averaged at least one film a year whether it’s acting or directing but unlike say, a Woody Allen, who has also belted out at least one film every year for the last four decades, the former’s oeuvre is not limited to a particular kind of film. Critics have accused Allen of making the same film over and over again but when it comes to Eastwood, there is perhaps no equivalent. Moreover, Eastwood has, in fact, even gotten better with age. The first time Eastwood broke away was in Unforgiven (1992), which not only cast a new look at the western genre but also brought back one of his most beloved characters – ‘the man with no name’ from films such as A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1964), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1964). The film fetched him the first of his two Best Director Oscars, the second of which came for Million Dollar Baby (2004). On the face of it, Million Dollar Baby appeared to be a boxing film but it also challenged gender stereotypes and transforms into a statement on euthanasia.
Looking at the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns or the Don Siegel actions films that made Eastwood globally famous, one would think that when it came to directing, Eastwood was not cut out for complex themes or narratives. Yet many of his films have taken up intricate, real issues ranging from law and order, politics, race, child abuse and white supremacy — besides political decisions taken by the United States such as the invasion of Iraq. Eastwood has also composed the film scores of many of his films such as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers and — the original piano compositions for — In the Line of Fire (1993).
In 2012, Eastwood faced a lot of flak for speaking to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, which was seen as an affront to the then US President Barack Obama. Eastwood believes that he didn’t want his speech to mirror everyone else’s at RNC, namely endorsing Mitt Romney. While he was backstage, he had heard Neil Diamond’s song “I am, I said,” which inspired him to talk to the empty chair. Later, Eastwood said that he regretted doing what he thought, in retrospect, was “silly.”
Although criticised heavily, both Eastwood’s fans and those who liked him despite his Republican leanings, quickly forgot the episode and a large part of this was due to his charisma. This charm was in full display in the ‘Halftime in America’ commercial that was aired during the Super Bowl a few months before the RNC fiasco. Eastwood has rarely left his own political leanings to rub off on the films he makes, which is more than visible in both American Sniper that does not exonerate the architects behind, i.e. the Republicans.
In the end, Eastwood simply keeps working and thank god for that!
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