Tuesday, December 1, 2009

That's Entertainment: Clint Eastwood's prolific decade

Property The Daily Gamecock

Clint Eastwood is 79 years old, but you could never guess that by looking at what he has accomplished the past six years of his career. Since 2003, the filmmaker has directed seven films, been nominated for three Oscars for Best Director, and won one in 2004 for “Million Dollar Baby.”

For a screen icon whose performances run five decades and span from Inspector Harry Callahan in the “Dirty Harry” films to “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” it would be easy for Eastwood to simply fade from the limelight and relax in his old age.

With his latest film “Invictus,” about South African president Nelson Mandela’s plan to unite his country through the World Rugby Cup, already sparking Academy Award murmurs in the weeks before its Dec. 11 theatrical release, it seems Eastwood’s storytelling ability is nowhere close to getting soft.

The string of films he’s assembled over the past few years, including “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” are among the strongest and most emotional dramas made by an American filmmaker this decade.

He is a true “actor’s director,” using all the experience he learned over decades of work to help craft nuanced and finely tuned performances from a vast array of actors. In his past seven films, he’s directed seven actors to Oscar nominations and four of those to wins.

Perhaps in recognition of these amazing recent achievements, the French Legion of Honor awarded him the position of Commander last month, an honor rarely given to an American.
With all these awards, all this hype and all this love from the industry it’s tempting to say Clint Eastwood is overrated. It’s easy to point at the more melodramatic and contrived moments of “Million Dollar Baby” or “Flags of Our Fathers” as evidence that he’s not doing anything particularly unique with his films.

But in many ways, part of Eastwood’s vast appeal seems to stem from the fact that he isn’t doing unique things. He understands how stories work, and how film can work to tell stories. Many of his films use traditional story models — a murder mystery, a rising boxing star, soldiers in combat — and strip these models into raw emotion.

His “Invictus” seems tailor-made for his kind of filmmaking. It is on the surface a biographical picture about a specific period in Nelson Mandela’s life. But in partnering again with friend Morgan Freeman and balancing the political aspects of the film with its rugby story, he is again trying to take typical stories in different directions.

After last year’s “Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood announced he wanted to retire from acting. It seemed fitting, as that film was a personal and probing look at a character who so resembled his gruff screen persona.

As for directing, it seems Eastwood won’t rest until he’s dead. He’s already filming “Hereafter,” a supernatural thriller starring Matt Damon for release next year. Rarely has a filmmaker been this prolific at this age, and this level of tenacious love for his medium is something any artist can admire, even in the most flawed moments of his films.

American cinema has become so used to Clint Eastwood since his major breakthroughs in the 1960s that now he is one of the last legends of that period to remain consistently in the spotlight’s glow.

Even as he inches towards 80, that spotlight seems to invigorate him and encourage him to continue exploring his art. That’s Entertainment.

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