Clint Eastwood

Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood)

When Bruce Springsteen did his 9/11 response record, The Rising, he was in an odd position–given the gravity of his intent, he couldn’t misstep. He might get excused for it, but then the record would be (albeit well-meaning) propaganda. It wouldn’t be art.

Clint Eastwood’s in a similar situation with Gran Torino. He’s dealing with capital I issues here, a whole slew of them ranging from post-war psychological trauma (the film’s very much a companion piece to his two Iwo Jima films), the Church, minority relations, generational divides, gender… that Eastwood’s character is a vocal bigot probably doesn’t even make the top ten. Eastwood can’t make any mistakes or the film won’t work. It’ll be Crash.

He doesn’t make any mistakes.

Gran Torino is a throwback to older Eastwood films in a lot of ways, to his films of the 1970s more than those of the 1990s. The film doesn’t have a particularly large cast and the action takes place mostly in two houses. It reminded me a lot of Nobody’s Fool in the way that film was the perfect old Paul Newman picture, this one is the perfect old Clint Eastwood one. Eastwood’s front and center for almost the entire film, I don’t remember the last time his acting was so central to one of his films. But it isn’t his monologues, because he only has a couple and they’re short and he doesn’t say much in them, it’s Eastwood acting opposite a dog. It’s one of the most transformative performances I’ve ever seen from an icon, someone who wasn’t adopting a different accent or hairstyle, growing a beard or putting on a bunch of weight. It’s Clint Eastwood, right there on the screen, but he personifies Walt Kowalski immediately.

Otherwise, the film wouldn’t work. It doesn’t work if it’s about Eastwood making a statement. In the end, Gran Torino doesn’t have a big moral. It’s pro-melting pot in an understated way, if that position qualifies as a moral. The film’s incredibly quiet, with Eastwood’s Panavision frame constantly showcasing the everyday. Some wonderful things happen in Gran Torino–the loudest atrocities aren’t even the worst–and Eastwood doesn’t draw attention to any of them.

The film’s interesting in terms of its debuts. It’s writer Nick Schenk’s first feature. Co-stars Bee Vang and Abney Her haven’t been in anything else. Watching Hey in particular is fascinating, because she works so well with Eastwood. During the silences in their scenes together, the mind can almost step back and admire his work directing her. These are half-thoughts though, with the film seizing one again immediately. Vang’s scenes with Eastwood are entirely different (which is another one of the big issues Gran Torino covers) and Vang’s character’s development through the film is noteworthy. But even Christopher Carley, in–I guess–the fourth biggest role, hasn’t been in very much, and his scenes–as Eastwood’s indefatigable priest–are great.

In smaller roles, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes and John Carroll Lynch are all good.

Tom Stern’s photography is excellent–the sound from Bud Asman and company is particularly fantastic–and James J. Murakami’s production design is great. The film’s technical perfection. Eastwood gives son Kyle Eastwood (and Michael Stevens) scoring duties here and their contributions might be another reason it feels so different from his modern work.

Fifteen or twenty minutes into the film, it reminded me of Interiors–a flawless, but dispassionately (on my part) inevitable masterpiece. It isn’t. Through its humor and its delicateness, Gran Torino exhilarates.

Back to Eastwood not being able to make a false step… I’m pretty sure Gran Torino is the first Eastwood film to end with an original song penned by Eastwood (with Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens). He’s done original pieces of music before himself (and scores himself), but a song is something else. And it’s perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Nick Schenk, based on a story by Dave Johannson and Schenk; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Robert Lorenz and Bill Gerber; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Bee Vang (Thao Vang Lor), Ahney Her (Sue Lor), Christopher Carley (Father Janovich), Brian Haley (Mitch Kowalski), Geraldine Hughes (Karen Kowalski), Brian Howe (Steve Kowalski) and John Carroll Lynch (Barber Martin).


Changeling (2008, Clint Eastwood)

During the lousiest parts of Changeling–easily identifiable by Jeffrey Donovan’s increased presence–there should be a disclaimer running across the bottom of the screen: “It doesn’t stay this bad… promise.”

Changeling is the worst film Clint Eastwood’s made in years. It’s easily the worst of his serious films–afterwards, I realized his last film before this one was Letters from Iwo Jima, which is stunning. One film’s an artistic expression, the other is the most over-produced Oscar bait I’ve sat through in a long time.

Eastwood’s never been a director-for-hire, but maybe Changeling signals some kind of a change. There’s absolutely no personality to this film. Eastwood’s direction, his composition, is impeccable. His musical score, fantastic. It looks great. But it’s empty. True stories aren’t good because they’re true–and true stories meant to win Angelina Jolie her coveted Best Actress statuette–vehicles for highly paid actresses who don’t necessarily bring in the box office dollars… they’re the worst kind of true stories.

Eastwood does find material in Changeling he’s interested in, but none of it features Jolie. Once he gets done with the fetishistic approach to daily life in 1928, he’s done with her. There are occasional moments of interest, like when John Malkovich shows up, but there are also terrible stretches. The film’s interesting moments are the discovery of a crime, when Michael Kelly’s the protagonist. Kelly’s great in the film, one of the best performances, and he gets the entirely un-Academy part of enabling the discovery of truth. The Oscar desperate moments feature–really–Amy Ryan as a hooker with a heart of gold who gets ECT just to show off her twenty-four karats.

I don’t fault Ryan for taking the role–I’m sure it came with assurances of a Best Supporting campaign and all–but Clint Eastwood making a film so desperate to win Oscars it brings in a ringer? It’s painful to watch.

Jolie’s fine in the lead. She’s never great and never terrible. Her despair is believable (because it’s Angelina Jolie and we know she’s a mother), which is about all the role calls for. The most interesting parts of her character–going back to work while her son is missing, digging a little on her bald boss–are never explored. They wouldn’t look good in that Best Actress reel.

Malkovich is utterly solid in a role with nothing for him to do. It’s technically the second biggest role and I guess they needed another name for the poster. Jason Butler Harner and Eddie Alderson are both great, so is Geoffrey Pierson.

When I heard about Changeling, I thought the biggest problem would be J. Michael Straczynski’s script and I was right. The dialogue’s fine–never particularly good–and the plotting is okay. It’s boring, but okay. But Straczynski’s approach to characters might actually be Changeling‘s place in cinematic history (in addition to being a blot on Eastwood’s filmography). Straczynski’s characters are entirely one-note–every last one of them–and it exemplifies the difference between one-dimensional bad guys and one-dimensional good guys. The bad guys are unbelievable. The good guys… it’s sort of assumed they’re not always being white knights. But the bad guys? Donovan’s performance is atrocious–it’s one of the worst I can remember seeing in a film from such a good director–but his character is idiotic too. The guy’s always bad. Compared to Donovan’s cop, Milton treated the serpent like Mickey Mouse. It makes the film excruciating for long stretches.

I can’t figure out why Clint Eastwood would have made this movie. Sure, he got a bigger budget than usual and an interesting setting, but it’s crap. It’s well-made crap, but I felt embarrassed watching it. Worse, I felt bad for Eastwood… Changeling is the kind of malarky Ron Howard makes now, not Clint Eastwood.

And look who produced it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by J. Michael Straczynski; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Eastwood; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Robert Lorenz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Angelina Jolie (Christine Collins), John Malkovich (Reverand Briegleb), Jeffrey Donovan (Captain J.J. Jones), Michael Kelly (Detective Ybarra), Colm Feore (Chief Davis), Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Stewart Northcott), Amy Ryan (Carol Dexter), Geoff Pierson (Hahn), Denis O’Hare (Dr. Steele), Frank Wood (Ben Harris), Peter Gerety (Dr. Tarr), Gattlin Griffith (Walter Collins) and Devon Conti (Arthur Hutchins).


The Gauntlet (1977, Clint Eastwood)

I think I watched The Gauntlet for masochistic reasons, namely screenwriters Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, the late 1970s, early 1980s version of Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner–incompetent Hollywood writers. Even so, the film’s not wholly terrible. It’s rarely exciting, just because the action sequences are so poorly written, and Clint approaches the whole thing with a sense of boredom. His character’s real shallow and the film would barely work if it weren’t for Sondra Locke and Eastwood’s chemistry. Locke’s actually got some really good moments–which is hard, considering how bad her character is written for the first half or so–including a great monologue comparing hookers and cops. In the later half of the film, once the two of them improbably fall in love, there’s even a neat idea of a scene, but again the writing kills it.

About fifteen minutes into The Gauntlet, I realized it was not dissimilar to Clint’s earlier, Coogan’s Bluff, but the greatest difference between the two is that lack of interest I mentioned before. Clint shoots this one in lots of long shots, concentrating on the physicality of the situations and not the characters, as though if he did, the characters might have to realize the absurdity of their situation. So it isn’t just the script making the character shallow, it’s also Clint’s direction of himself–those long shots make the character empty. His performance is sort of broad. When he’s interested, he acts; when he’s not, he’s on autopilot.

The supporting cast is fantastic–William Prince, Pat Hingle, and Michael Cavanaugh are all good. The names in the movie are some of the most absurd I’ve heard: Blakelock, Feyderspiel, Shockley. The actors stumble over them with a lot of trouble–audible trouble, which sometimes makes the more boring scenes funny. An interesting, IMDb-fueled note: this film reunites Clint with Mara Corday. They both appeared in Tarantula twenty-two years earlier, though they didn’t have any scenes together (and Clint wasn’t credited). That bit of trivia–and the possibility of a story behind it–is more interesting than anything in The Gauntlet, except, I suppose, my newfound regard for Sondra Locke’s acting ability.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Rexford Metz; edited by Ferris Webster and Joel Cox; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Ben Shockley), Sondra Locke (Gus Mally), Pat Hingle (Josephson), William Prince (Blakelock), Bill McKinney (Constable), Michael Cavanaugh (Feyderspiel), Carole Cock (Waitress), Mara Corday (Jail matron), Douglas McGrath (Bookie) and Jeff Morris (Desk Sergeant).


Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood)

It’d be absurdly obvious to point out Letters from Iwo Jima is an anomaly in Clint Eastwood’s body of work. Outside, well, some Japanese directors in the 1950s and 1960s, it’d probably be an anomaly in anyone’s oeuvre. It reminds me of a dream movie–some movie I watch in a dream and wake up and it’s not real. Even a day later, thinking about the film, I keep expecting it not to be real. Certainly not to get to see it again.

Though it’s a definite companion to Flags of Our Fathers, it really makes no sense to talk about the two films in relation to each other. Besides the obvious comparison (Das Boot), Iwo Jima reminds most of The Big Red One–there’s a relentless futility essayed in the three films, but Iwo Jima is by far the bleakest portrayal of war I’ve ever seen. It may have something to do with being from the Japanese perspective, but even of the Japanese war films I’ve seen… Iwo Jima is something more. The bleakness somehow never manages to depress though. Letters from Iwo Jima tells its story in a finite arena and, even though it has a slight modern-day frame, never really makes any comment on its subjects. There are a lot of beautiful moments in the film, usually involving the main character, played by Ninomiya Kazunari, and his friends and his experiences. But while the film spends its time with both he and Ken Watanabe’s general, neither are really the main focus of the film. Clint encapsulates the entire experience through these two, which lead me to The Big Red One comparison, but there are also comparison’s to Sam Fuller’s other war films, which were also incredibly bleak (The Big Red One is probably the most cheery, in fact).

In many ways, Letters from Iwo Jima is an indescribable film. Seeing it soon after Flags of Our Fathers makes a technical comparison possible, maybe even interesting, but the two films are completely different. Iwo Jima is a film… well, it’s completely unique, both in the experience of seeing it and its place in big-f Film (which is separately thrilling, that a film could still make a place for itself in the medium). It’s a startling achievement from Clint Eastwood and I pretty much figured he could do anything, but here he manages to top any conceivable expectations.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Iris Yamashita, based on a story by Yamashita and Paul Haggis; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production designers, Henry Bumstead and James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Warner Bros. and DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Ken Watanabe (Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi), Ninomiya Kazunari (Saigo), Ihara Tsuyoshi (Baron Nishi), Kase Ryo (Shimizu), Nakamura Shidou (Lieutenant Ito) and Nae (Hanako).


Flags of Our Fathers (2006, Clint Eastwood)

When my friend saw Flags of Our Fathers and I asked him about it, he described it–I’m paraphrasing–as an unexciting four. Seeing it, I can fully understand. It’s a great film, but its greatness is somewhat inevitable and uninteresting. Clint’s way too good of a filmmaker at this point to turn in something less, especially given the content. However, the content, specifically Clint’s fluctuating interest in it, is what makes Flags so unexceptional, so unexciting. Flags is based on a guy’s book investigating his father and the other flag-raisers at Iwo Jima. While the film does establish itself with a present-day frame, it isn’t specified its this author investigating. Away from Iwo Jima, Clint’s most interested in Adam Beach’s character, an alcoholic American Indian who’s touring as a hero but can’t get served in bars. Beach’s character is the most like an Eastwood character in Flags. At one moment, after the book-writing frame became clear and Flags felt a lot like The Bridges of Madison County, only without Clint’s full commitment to the frame, Beach seemed a lot like Clint in that film.

Even though Beach has Clint and the film’s interest for the war bonds campaign (after the photo got popular, the surviving subjects toured to sell war bonds), Ryan Phillippe gets the most emphasis on Iwo Jima. Watching Phillippe act and do it well, I felt validated–back in 1998, I said he was going to be good (after watching Playing by Heart) and it only took him seven years. The Iwo Jima sections of the film are short and involve a lot of CG and watching Clint handle it is interesting. He uses the CG like a rear projection, making Flags of Our Fathers‘s battle scenes look a lot like a modern 1940s war film. He pulls it off well, because it’s interesting to look at, while not being visually stunning. Still, I think there was a whole story of the characters on Iwo Jima, just because the castings so good–Barry Pepper, Neal McDonough and Robert Patrick are all great in small roles (Pepper especially), but the greatest surprise of Flags, performance-wise, has to be Paul Walker. Sure, he’s only got ten lines and he’s in the film for two and a half minutes, but he’s really good.

The third main character, played by Jesse Bradford, somehow gets more time than Phillippe, but has the least to do. The film only hints at the relationship between the three men, but never explores it, probably through some kind of misguided sense of historical accuracy. I’m kidding (to some degree), but it’s obvious there’s something holding Clint back here and it’s probably the source material and its presentation. Clint’s made an excellent film, but there’s something missing, some awareness of itself and the different ways it moves, since it does have three concurrently running narratives. It might even be three films, or at least two since Bridges managed to beautifully incorporate its two narratives.

It’s a powerful film and a complete experience, but it’s like ordering dinner at a great restaurant, a restaurant you know is going to be excellent. The food’s great, but it doesn’t surprise you.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, based on the book by James Bradley with Ron Powers; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox; music by Eastwood; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Ryan Phillippe (John Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon), Adam Beach (Ira Hayes), John Benjamin Hickey (Keyes Beech), John Slattery (Bud Gurber), Barry Pepper (Mike Strank), Jamie Bell (Ralph Ignatowski), Paul Walker (Hank Hansen) and Robert Patrick (Col. Chandler Johnson).


Tightrope (1984, Richard Tuggle)

I think I figured out what makes Bruce Surtees’s 1980s photography so particular–he’s accounting for grain in film stock where there’s no significant grain (as opposed to, say, his films of the 1970s). Tightrobe has a muted cleanliness to it, which really doesn’t fit the story–cop who frequents prostitutes versus serial killer of same prostitutes. It lacks a visual personality. The New Orleans locations do a lot of the work for the film, because the locations aren’t the star, just the locations, which is always how New Orleans works better. It’s too easy to have it do all the work. Richard Tuggle, the writer and director, does an adequate job of directing Tightrope–he does good chase scenes–but his script spends an hour establishing the situation, then spends fifty minutes putting first Eastwood’s kids, then his girlfriend, in danger. There’s some nice stuff in the script, but it’s really not the script’s fault, rather Alison Eastwood playing Eastwood’s kid, which I’ll get to in a second. First, I need to acknowledge Tuggle as an “Eastwood director.” Paul Newman had a couple people he worked with a lot (Martin Ritt and Stuart Rosenberg) and Eastwood similarly used to have his own stable. Tuggle only did the one film, but he’s really indistinguishable from the other two (James Fargo and Buddy Van Horn) Eastwood worked with during the late 1970s to late 1980s period. He does a fine job, but there’s nothing to it.

On to the Eastwoods. The effect of having Alison Eastwood play the daughter is staggering. She’s really good, but being aware of it, I watched Clint Eastwood and his kid, not the character and his kid. I never felt like I was watching them star in a movie, but the general lack of characterization–except the relatively tame kinkiness–just made it another Eastwood vehicle. It’s a good and effective vehicle, but it lacks. It reminds me of a less competent, but more engaging Blood Work. Dirty Harry with kids, or something. Seeing Eastwood with kids is nice though, those scenes are the best in Tightrope, but the scenes of Eastwood in the Red Light district are so tamed down for mainstream consumption, that aspect of the film misfires. The kid stuff, though, it’s so good it makes up for Genevieve Bujold’s abject ineffectiveness.

My only other comment on Tightrope is in regards to Dan Hedaya as Eastwood’s partner. You can’t have Hedaya in a movie and not use him. Tightrope doesn’t use him.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Tuggle; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; produced by Clint Eastwood and Fritz Manes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Wes Block), Genevieve Bujold (Beryl Thibodeaux), Dan Hedaya (Detective Molinari), Alison Eastwood (Amanda Block), Jennifer Beck (Penny Block) and Marco St. John (Leander Rolfe).


The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)

There are a couple kinds of Westerns, once you break it down enough. Ones where people go places, ones where people don’t. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a going places Western. It’s about a man on a trip and what the trip does to the man on the trip. I’ve seen Josey Wales before, probably twelve or fifteen years ago, maybe more–long before I could appreciate it. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a different kind of Eastwood directorial film. Stylistically–visually–it’s more in line with his early 1970s work. There’s also a lot of visible Don Siegel influence. Story-wise, The Outlaw Josey Wales is different from just about any other Eastwood film I’ve seen and can recollect, which leaves out maybe three contenders (but I’m doubtful of The Gauntlet’s artistic import).

Eastwood, the star, gives more in this film than he does for the entire 1980s, more than since he had to back in the 1960s. The film’s about Josey Wales and people–his effect on them and their effect on him, try as he might not to let it get to him–and Eastwood’s rarely alone. The relationships are all peculiar, with none of them having any earth-shattering importance to the character, though the romance with Sondra Locke comes the closest, but there’s more revealing character moments between Eastwood and Chief Dan George’s tag-a-long Indian friend. The Outlaw Josey Wales is so good I need a long sentence like the previous one, to show off my excitement at thinking about it. Other good performances (it’s Eastwood’s best acting job in the 1970s) include Sam Bottoms and John Vernon. I recently said Vernon’s only good in small doses and, while Josey Wales is a smallish dose, it’s more than I’d usually prefer. But I couldn’t care, since he’s fantastic. The rest of the cast is all excellent and many actors seem hand-picked from previous Eastwood films.

Since I’ve already had to acknowledge my misdiagnoses of Vernon, I have to now get on to Bruce Surtees, the cinematographer. In my response to Tightrope, I said Surtees didn’t know how to compensate for 1980s film stock. The Outlaw Josey Wales is from 1976, so I have no idea whether or not Surtees’s absolute brilliance in regards to this film proves my statement true or false. After just watching two color-drained Surtees-shot films, seeing Josey Wales was a revelation. The colors are sumptuous. It’s a stunning film to see–also to hear. Jerry Fielding’s score is fantastic. Production-wise, it’s uniformly great.

I’ll come across films I should have known were great–and Josey Wales is one of those physically-affecting good films–I had a physical reaction to experiencing it (kind of a soaring thing in the chest)–but this one kind of pisses me off. I mean, I should have thought to give it a look a long time ago….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Philip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, based on a book by Forrest Carter; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Fielding; production designer, Tambi Larsen; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Josey Wales), Chief Dan George (Lone Watie), Sondra Locke (Laura Lee), Bill McKinney (Terrill), John Vernon (Fletcher), Paula Trueman (Grandma Sarah) and Sam Bottoms (Jamie).


Pale Rider (1985, Clint Eastwood)

Pale Rider is an interesting Eastwood–while it is a milestone in Eastwood coming together as a filmmaker–it’s also one of the few films where he really offered up so much for another actor to do. The film’s some kind of homage to Shane–as well as a colder, more mountainous version of High Plains Drifter–but Michael Moriarty has a lot more to do in Pale Rider than Van Heflin had to do in Shane even. With a handful of mediocre ones, Pale Rider has some of the best performances in any Eastwood film to this point. Besides Moriarty, who really has to carry the film, since Eastwood’s absent as a character, there’s Chris Penn, who’s fantastic as the bad guy. Doug McGrath is good, so is Richard Kiel (though he doesn’t have much to do). Richard Dysart shows up as the big bad and he’s hamming it up but it’s in a funny way. The script’s absolute shit (more on it in a second), but Dysart has a great time with it. Carrie Snodgress doesn’t do well with the script, which saddles her with an unsympathetic and petty character. Worst (though still passable) is Sydney Penny, who plays the teenage girl in love with Eastwood. She can’t deliver the bad lines properly and there’s no way she’s Snodgress’s daughter, so she sticks out.

The script–from the half-wits who wrote The Car of all things–probably doesn’t have a single good moment. Watching the film, appreciating the stuff between Eastwood and Moriarty, I figured Eastwood came up with that relationship on set. While Pale Rider is a definite influence on Unforgiven–much of it makes Unforgiven, Eastwood’s next Western, seem like a response to Pale Rider. Rider is the same old formula Western (full of references to earlier Eastwood Westerns), only with it, Eastwood really gets the filmmaking end of it together. He’s got Lennie Niehaus on music and there’s some good stuff, but it’s mostly not. Joel Cox edits the film and does a wonderful job. Bruce Surtees shot it in his standard flat palate, but the technical end really comes through. Some of the work in Pale Rider is from a different Clint Eastwood. Not better, not worse, but different. He was going to either go, stylistically, one way or the other and in Pale Rider, you can see both of them side-by-side.

Unfortunately, the script’s so bad, it’s impossible to recommend as anything but an example of a competent, interesting production. By the time the end shoot-out comes around, it’s all so telegraphed (and short) and entirely familiar, there’s really nothing to it. There’s no excitement and it becomes obvious what a chore Pale Rider was for Eastwood to make–and how lazy he was in regards to many, many aspects of it, particularly the undeveloped town. Eastwood was making a ton of movies during this period and Pale Rider suffers from a stretched attention-span.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Edward C. Carfagno; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Preacher), Michael Moriarty (Hull Barret), Carrie Snodgress (Sarah Wheeler), Christopher Penn (Josh LaHood), Richard Dysart (Coy LaHood), Sydney Penny (Megan Wheeler), Richard Kiel (Club), Doug McGrath (Spider Conway), John Russell (Stockburn), Charles Hallahan (McGill), Marvin J. McIntyre (Jagou), Fran Ryan (Ma Blankenship), Richard Hamilton (Jed Blankenship), Graham Paul (Ev Gossage), Chuck LaFont (Eddie Conway) and Jeffrey Weissman (Teddy Conway).


The Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995, James Keach)

I wonder if, in the early 1970s, anyone could tell Robert Duvall was going to end up playing the scruffy-looking, ne’er do-well with the heart of gold over and over again. He doesn’t particularly act in The Stars Fell on Henrietta. He just shows up and does his thing. His scruffy-looking thing. There’s some attempt at giving him a character–he really doesn’t have any depth–but for the most part, that attempt has to do with his never-spoken love for his cat. The cat’s cute, but it’s hardly enough. There’s some nice stuff with Wayne Dehart, who plays his co-worker in the beginning of the second act (the acts are clearly defined in Stars, usually with fade-outs). It’s 1935 Texas, so Dehart being black and Duvall white gives their relationship some inherent interest, but Dehart’s real good, putting a lot out there, so much Duvall doesn’t have to do much, which is good… because, like I said, Duvall doesn’t do much in Stars.

But Dehart leaves and Duvall ends up with Aidan Quinn and his family, where most of the story and most of the problems lie. Quinn starts the film grumbling and for the first act, it seems like the grumble is his interpretation of the character. Once the grumbling goes away, Quinn is good. Frances Fisher plays his wife and she’s good, but her character’s hardly in it after a point, which is too bad because her performance is probably the best and her character had the most potential for drama. The film’s narrated from the present day–in some ways, not that narration, but in lots of others, it reminds of a really depressing Field of Dreams, especially since the film starts out with the narrator telling the audience everything is going to be bad in the end. For the first eighty minutes, it does too. One bad thing after another happens, so much so I was suspicious of every scene.

The Stars Fell on Henrietta is a pretty picture. It’s a Malpaso production, Clint Eastwood producing it (and I kept wondering how it would have been if he’d taken Duvall’s role), and there’s the wonderful Joel Cox editing and the perfect Henry Bumstead production design (startling, in fact). The non-Eastwood regulars are good too–David Benoit’s music is nice and Bruce Surtees does a good job with the cinematography, though he’s obviously not Jack N. Green… Director James Keach uses the prettiness–especially the music–to make up for what the screenplay doesn’t provide: good character relationships, an ending, humanity. Everything is nice and tidy and the film constantly ignores potential for rich drama, or just fast-forwards through it.

It’s an empty experience. The end credits rolled and I appreciated the fine score and couldn’t think of one thing the film showed me.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Keach; written by Philip Railsback; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by David Benoit; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Clint Eastwood and David Valdes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Duvall (Mr. Cox), Aidan Quinn (Don Day), Frances Fisher (Cora Day), Brian Dennehy (Big Dave), Lexi Randall (Beatrice Day) and Billy Bob Thornton (Roy).


Coogan’s Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)

In my youth, or until Entertainment Weekly misquoted me about it, I used to opine that film entered the modern era in 1968. I cited films such as 2001, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Bullitt. Coogan’s Bluff, released in October 1968 (who doesn’t love IMDb for release dates?), sort of goes against that assertion (which I’ve long since abandoned anyway).

Coogan is an anomaly in Eastwood’s filmography and maybe just in film in general. It’s not a Dirty Harry film–though Siegel’s direction is similar in both pictures–in fact, Dirty Harry was more of an identifiable character than Coogan is in this film. But Coogan is a character study… It’s incredibly different and almost impossible to explain. While there’s a chase scene, there’s also Eastwood getting beat-up a bunch (see, back in the 1960s, people could beat up Clint Eastwood, not anymore… he’s pre-iconic in Coogan), then there are these long, delicate conversation scenes between Coogan and his romantic interest (how did Susan Clark not take off as a dramatic actress? I half blame it on Universal and half on marrying the football guy). I think, in the end, I only decided it was a character study because we–the audience–aren’t privy to the most important time in the film. They just don’t show us….

Another interesting aspect is to see Eastwood’s progression as an actor. In Coogan’s Bluff, away from the Western setting, he’s obviously missing something. He found it quick though, given Dirty Harry and Play Misty and The Beguiled. But it’s a ballsy role–he gets his ass kicked all the time. The majority of his time is spent causing trouble and trying to get laid. It’s not surprising no one knows how to market this film today, post-marquee Eastwood.

Films like Coogan’s Bluff really spoke to me when I was a teenager because they did something different. Coogan doesn’t speak as loudly as it did–maybe it does, I can’t remember–but there’s some beautiful stuff in some of this film. Unfortunately, the Lalo Schifrin score works against it sometimes. So do the scenes when it’s too apparent they filmed on the Universal backlot, though the syncing is excellent in other parts of the film. And who thought the Cloisters would ever be used as an action showdown?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; written by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, based on a story by Miller; director of photography, Bud Thackery; edited by Sam E. Waxman; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Coogan), Lee J. Cobb (McElroy), Susan Clark (Julie), Tisha Sterling (Linny Raven), Don Stroud (Ringerman), Betty Field (Mrs. Ringerman), Tom Tully (Sheriff McCrea) and Melodie Johnson (Milie).


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