Top Ten Clint Eastwood Directorial Achievements (part 1)

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10. Invictus (2009)

This film was under my radar until Matt Damon appeared  with an acting nomination at the Academy Awards. Damon has been on the fence for me as an actor. His best performances are always at the helm of a great director (think about it…) in the wrong hands, we all suffer. So after watching Damon’s emotional, inspiring, believable performance as rugby coach Francois Pienaar, I had to invest myself in the film and congratulate its director, Clint Eastwood. Not quite a biographical tale, not quite a sports film, Invictus takes its name from a William Ernet Henly poem, meaning, “unconquered.” And it delivers that thematic premise. It’s important to note Eastwood’s handling of theme in this directorial effort. The plot points are a tad predictable, but Eastwood is successful in pushing through to illustrate what it takes to drive a poverty-stricken nation to success. Inspiration is found on the playing field between two great leaders and their love for country.  The film is seamless in its editing, and intense on the playing field with its cinematography. Eastwood handles Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Nelson Mandela well enough, although, its not one of Freeman’s best.

9. Absolute Power (1997)

Absolute Power firmly confirms Eastwood as a director who can not only handle the thriller genre, but also innovate it. From performance to script, lighting and sound the man knows how to layer suspense in a twisting and tense manner. Viewers are hooked from the end of the first sequence, which is arguably one of the best openings to a crime film ever, depicting what happens when a robber picks the wrong night to go to work. Most thrillers rely on cheap tricks, or fall flat halfway through the second act. Eastwood avoids this pitfall by offering us a relationship arc – an estranged father and daughter storyline (a Eastwood trademark). Few thrillers delve into personal stories, leaving the hero a simple action figure. But Eastwood uses this relationship to cohesively connect all the elements in the story. Thus, we know Luther Whitney as a person – flawed, determined, complicated. And alongside Joel Cox’s editing and Jack Green’s camera work, there are memorable “action sequences” with an no sound, dialogue, special effects, violence or cheap thrills – and they’re memorable simply because we are fully invested in the character and his story, alongside the plot. Absolute Power is a brilliant and rare feat.

8. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

At first thought, one might say this is not your typical Eastwood film  – but it is precisely that. A film based on an idea, loss, regrets, simple gestures and controlled performances. This is an Eastwood classic – if you can handle him without the lasso, boots and cowboy hat. 
Eastwood plays a photographer, Robert Kincaid, and Meryl Streep plays farmer’s housewife, Francesca Johnson. The two meet, and what develops is a film about falling in love, and letting it go for the rest of your life. It’s heart-wrenchingly melancholic – and ever so powerful for that precise choice (thanks to author James Waller’s novel).  Two people who deserve one another, and the sad lesson, that life isn’t always just about what makes you happy. Only middle age lovers could conclude such a mature understanding and decide to carry that burden. The film is not erotic or sexy, it depicts love in the manner we wish to experience mind, body and soul. The two actors should be commended on their handling of character nuance. The landscape is captured magnificently by Jack Green’s cinematography, embossing candlelight with subtext. Soft diegetic sound (another Eastwood trademark) fills the silences that weight heavily on characters.

7. Bird (1988)

There is no doubt that Eastwood and his preferred musical tastes accent most of his directorial accomplishments. So if you happen to be a jazz fan, this film epitomizes his musical instincts. Bird is a musical biopic on the life of Charlie Parker, a 1940’s jazz legend who transformed the genre with his improvisational genius who ultimately succumbed to an early death due to his self-destructive habits.  Forrest Whitaker is phenomenal as Charlie Bird Parker, and delivers an acute and sympathetic performance under Eastwood’s guiding hand, alongside Diane Venora, in a strong portrayal of Chan Parker. Perhaps Eastwood’s own love of jazz allowed him the insight to capturing the dark mood, atmosphere and chaos of jazz clubs of the 40s and 50s in all aspects of bringing the story to life – light, camera, sound, and diction, and touchingly, the use of rain and soggy streets. Every element adds up in telling a story of a very inspirational and charming man who lead a damaged life. The film is well crafted, long and ambitious, but succeeds in its use of one artistic medium (film) to illustrate another (music).

6. Unforgiven (1992)

Eastwood was finally bestowed what he yearned for with this film at the 1993 Academy Awards – (his first) Best Director and Best Picture statuettes. However, to give the lone wolf of Westerns one of cinema’s highest honors for a Western…seems a little anticipated.  But, I must admit, in terms of Westerns, and performance, Unforgiven is a top act. To understand the appropriate execution of this film, one should look at its actor/director in terms of channeling the film’s point of view, and then the Oscar seems more than fitting. This film takes place in a time where the Old West is confronted with the New. An existence of simplicity and justice conflicted with greed and amorality, the righteous outlaws versus the cruel sheriff, or…the Eastwood of yester-year meets the new Eastwood of today.  The tone, visual style and soundscape of the film, reflect an era of storytelling long passed. But Eastwood manages to revitalize the long shot, master shot, backlit interiors, clipped dialogue, and themes of classic westerns in a modern and mindful manner. Eastwood is a master of detailing the inner working of a man filled with regret, sometimes in a not so shameful way. He delivers a story with authenticity and moral quandary – are all lives worth the same? To Eastwood’s William Munny – not in the slightest.

-Jennifer Kassabian

#5 – 1 (click here)

  1. Zora Vespia says

    I really loved Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. A friend of mine saw Here After last night and told me it had no story but was a cool idea.

  2. […] #10 – 6 (Click here) […]

  3. Jacob Barker says

    Only number 6 for Unforgiven? I’ll be curious to see your top 5!

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