THE SEVEN AGES OF CLINT EASTWOOD

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

-William Shakespeare

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Hello and welcome to the first edition of The Seven Ages of where we will be discussing Clint Eastwood.

A few things to keep in mind, inspired by Shakespeare’s words I am endeavouring to relate the trajectory of a career and lifetime of an artist through these seven ages. Whether it is where the actor was in their career and where the character was in their life will be the criteria.

I’ll admit it was hard for me to decipher what each age would be about and found the website Quora most helpful to that end. By all means check them out.
Effectively for the purposes of these posts the Seven Ages will refer to these criteria.

  1. Infant – This could be an early role of little note when the actor just got their foot in the door or their first starring role.
  2. Schoolboy – Yearning for freedom and adventure but still reliant on the protection of their elders. Perhaps where the actor shows raw talent or does a terrible film or still works under a more esteemed mentor. If not fresh faced and young then still a relatively new quantity to the audience.
  3. Lover- I think Shakespeare intended this age to reflect lust, hot air and a lack of awareness that comes with youth. For the sake of this I might consider that or just put it down to their most romantic role.
  4. The Soldier – Essentially the age while still relatively young somebody decides on their code and goes out into the world to conquer it and being highly competitive to do it too. For an actor this maybe the moment where they truly define a persona for themselves that will stick. If they’re already a star it might be where they re-invent themselves and perhaps not without controversy.
  5. The Justice – maybe the height of someone’s stardom where they’re aged but established. Powerful even if coasting on their achievements from when they were the age of the soldier. Reflection comes to them too now and with it wisdom.
  6. Pantalone – Now the inevitable decline begins. Still in the world but it is passing them by. For a star who is smart this will often seem them partnered with a new up and comer or Lover or Schoolboy if you will.
  7. Old Age – For most actors this may be a pitiful last appearance which only embarrasses old memories or it may be a performance of a character at this stage of life. At death’s door what will be their parting wisdom, their learned lesson?

This hopefully will be an ongoing series and I fully intend to do Gene Hackman (as soon as I see Night Moves and I Never Sang for My Father, c’mon Netflix Australia!), stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Bogie, Hepburn, Tracey, Fonda, Grant and actresses like Sigourney Weaver, Shirley Maclaine and Meryl Streep. I chose Clint Eastwood straight up because there are few films of his that I haven’t seen and I would prefer someone over 70. Please note these seven ages refer to Eastwood and his acting performances. You could do a whole other one of him as director. This is also not a list of his best films or my favourites otherwise Firefox would be in there. If you think other ones will be a better pick for an age feel free to chime in. Do you have a landmark role for each decade Eastwood has been on the big screen? Let’s dig in.

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1. Infant – A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Early films of no note include Eastwood playing a jet pilot in Tarantula. The TV series Rawhide made Eastwood a star as drover Rowdy Yates. I’ve seen neither. Clint Eastwood the movie star began with the Dollars trilogy and they begin with A Fistful of Dollars. A remake of Yojimbo, Eastwood starred as The Man with No Name (well marketing would have you believe anyway) riding into a border town and using the rivalry between two crime families to his own advantage. An immoral anti-hero, outnumbered, fearless, barely speaking and scowling a lot behind cigar smoke to add to the mystery. When people do impersonations of Eastwood they’re channelling everything he did in this performance. He picked the items for his costume in Beverly Hills before leaving for Europe already an assertive collaborator but Eastwood the man tipped his hat to directors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel later in Unforgiven, he learnt from them and it all started here at the infancy of his career.

Runners Up: Tarantula, Rawhide, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Dirty Harry.

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2. Schoolboy – Dirty Harry (1971)

Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood in four movies, encouraged him in his own aspirations to direct and with Dirty Harry gave him a new kind of iconic role that didn’t involve him riding a horse into town. In Eastwood, Siegel got a star like no other and this was the apex of their collaborations. Before Dirty Harry Eastwood is making the genre rounds after Leone, a cop thriller here, a war movie there and even a musical. Afterwards Eastwood has his second massive hit and starts to control more of his career. As far as characters go there’s nothing childish or self-pitying about Lt Harry Callahan but there is idealism albeit not a very conventional one. Dirty Harry keeps bending the rules because he wants to protect the innocent and stop the criminals. We may not agree with the tearing up of civil rights but he in his own way believes in a better world. Lt Callahan could right the wrongs we couldn’t’, punish the attackers we feared, tell the bureaucrats where to go. Pure fantasy, a movie star persona all the way.

Runners Up: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Beguiled, Coogan’s Bluff, Where Eagles Dare, Paint Your Wagon, Kelly’s Heroes.

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3. Lover- The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Like all tough guy stars the romantic roles are few and far between for Mr Eastwood even after all these years. He’s explored sexuality for sure often with strong women threatening him in The Beguiled. Tightrope questioning men’s lesser base natures and conversely the need to protect their women. Close to two decades before Fatal Attraction came out, Eastwood himself made a film about a one night stand gone awry in Play Misty for Me. Clint shared warm chemistry with a dozen female co-stars not the least of which was real life love Sondra Locke.

Yet when I think romance and Clint Eastwood I think about that old man standing in the rain at a service station smiling. Clint was 65 in that film, fans of the book probably would have had him as their last choice to play photographer Robert Kincaid but he’s perfect in it. Robert is on assignment in rural Iowa to photograph some bridges and strikes up a relationship with housewife Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) while her family is away. Passionate and tender like he’d never allowed himself to be on screen before. Streep famously related a story where he turned away from the camera in one scene. “No they can’t see the tear.” He said of his audience and yet we know it’s there and we’re right there with him.

Runners Up: Play Misty for Me, The Beguiled, Heartbreak Ridge, Tightrope.

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4. The Soldier – The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

You could argue the Dollar films were Eastwood establishing himself or Dirty Harry or High Plains Drifter. There is one film though that I think shows Eastwood as a full entity in his own right with still white hot ambition. In a career of great films and great performances The Outlaw Josey Wales might be it. Eastwood still plays him as a superman able to outdraw 3 men at once, fearless again with a mean streak of humour but maturity is creeping in. The story goes that Wales is a simple farmer who loses his family and fights in the border clashes of the U.S. Civil War. While an invincible superman the realities of war and loss surround him and the family he mourns come to be replaced by another forcing Wales to admit on some level he is still capable of love and vulnerability. It’s interesting to note that Wales cannot win the day without said family. Eastwood is pushing his boundaries here and one could argue he never made a better film than this. Coincidentally Wales the character is a soldier of a sort.

Runners Up: Dirty Harry, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, Heartbreak Ridge.

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5. The Justice – Honkytonk Man (1982)

The biggest movie star in America for many years Eastwood always had a great grasp of his star persona and long before Unforgiven he would like to play different takes on it. Bronco Billy’s cowboy was shoe salesman case in point, Sudden Impact put Harry Callahan in the position of bringing a rape victim to justice. In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot Eastwood played well a worn down bank robber given a new leash of life from Jeff Bridges. In Heartbreak Ridge at the height of Rambomania he made a service comedy that got the danger of combat and tasked his ultra-macho Marine with finding a better way to express his love for a woman as retirement loomed. You don’t need Grenada in that movie, he’s not teaching his platoon to win wars he’s teaching them to be good men. Anybody who’s been through military training will understand the power of that.

Yet what was the most personal film he ever made at the height of his star power? During the Great Depression Eastwood as a boy drove around with his family as they looked for work. In adapting Clancy Carlile’s novel Honkytonk Man Eastwood shows us a similar time and journey, telling us the story of Whit ‘Hoss’ Stovall accompanying his Uncle Red during the Great Depression as Red, a singer, attempts to make it to the Grand Ole Opry. Eastwood sings in the movie and there are plenty of slapstick adventures along the way kind of like a boy’s own adventure. Kyle Eastwood (coached a little by Locke) acts damn well opposite his father projecting wide eyed naiveté and worldliness about how imperfect his Uncle is. A scene late at night in the car involves one of those late night drive conversations you might have with an elder and how many regrets and lost loves will stick with you down through the years. Eastwood felt no need to apologise for this film in any way, there’s no real action or bell and whistles. It’s a character piece and maybe Clint Eastwood’s best performance as a man….just a man like the rest of us with hopes, dreams, frailties and Marys we could have done more right by.

Runners Up: The Dead Pool, Sudden Impact, Unforgiven, In the Line of Fire, Heartbreak Ridge, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, White Hunter Black Heart, Pale Rider.

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6. Pantalone – In the Line of Fire (1993)

Eastwood segued nicely into playing older men with reduced abilities happy to share the spotlight with younger co-stars or make fun of the cop genre Callaghan spawned. In Unforgiven he took everything he knew about his persona and the Western and turned them on their head. Showing a gunslinger in reduced ability that may have only ever had it because he was fearless when drunk. Yet it is a treatise on his career and more impressive for his directing than his acting. For me In the Line of Fire is the performance I’m more drawn to for this age. Eastwood saves the day in his first scene every bit the movie star persona as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan. Soon though we see that façade fall, the criminal he is trying to stop played by John Malkovich outwits him at every turn and is always one step ahead of him. Horrigan never proves smarter than his antagonist throughout the whole film. In a few moments Eastwood even shows Horrigan clearly afraid of him and afraid of death. It makes the Agent’s choices in the finale that much more powerful. Physically Eastwood who has always kept himself in good shape allows himself here to be seen old, napping, sweating and lonely in his little old apartment even as he tries to talk like a man on the make with a woman half his age in fellow agent Lilly Raines played by Rene Russo. He doesn’t even get to win arguments against bureaucrats anymore. Yet Eastwood the star is more compelling with his vulnerabilities not in spite of them and when the time comes to squint those eyes and shoot straight you better not bet against Clint!

Runners Up: Unforgiven, Absolute Power, True Crime, Bloodwork, The Rookie, Million Dollar Baby, Honytonk Man, Bronco Billy, Space Cowboys.

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7. Old Age – Gran Torino (2008)

Million Dollar Baby haunts like few films can. Easily one of Eastwood’s best in the past year and with a character in Eastwood who is full of regrets and seldom few things to look forward to but if there is a message about life it is given by Hilary’s Swank’s Maggie and Eastwood as director. For a last great performance from a man who is facing death, lost a great deal and imparts one final wisdom then it is the character of Walt Kowalski. A Korean War veteran, retired auto factory worker and widow Walt is quickly becoming isolationist in his demeanour and circumstances. The neighbourhood he lives in has changed, the values he was raised on have been left behind, the family he provided for have no time for his harsh words and stern judgement. Then he is forced into action to protect others and finds himself re-engaged in the world, he finds purpose again and community and with it vulnerability. If Eastwood was afraid to show his tears a decade earlier in Madison Country here he goes for it and after a lifetime of playing violent avengers Walt finds a new way to stop the cycle continuing to spin that requires more courage than raising a gun.

Runners Up: Million Dollar Baby, The Trouble with the Curve, Pink Cadillac.

Well feel free to let me know what your picks would have been in the comments below and thanks for reading.

-Lloyd Marken

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SULLY: THE MAN IN THE AIR

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Sully is an American hero. We should cherish that simple reassuring fact until the end of time that such things can be true and real in this day and age. Yet Chesley Sullenberger is also a man, a quiet professional of considerable skill and talent but a human being with flaws and doubts like the rest of us. Clint Eastwood’s film accepts both these truths can co-exist but has something to say about how each responded to the events of January 15, 2009.

On January 15, 2009 Flight 1549 took off from La Guardia airport in New York City. At 2,000 feet before levelling out of ascent multiple birds struck the aircraft disabling both engines immediately. They never got higher than 2,800 feet with the major urban population of New York City beneath them. In 200 seconds the plane had landed on the Hudson river, a feat of piloting in itself which was truly extraordinary. From the point that the plane hit the water to the point where all survivors were on the pier was 24 minutes. To have had anybody survive such a landing would have been remarkable. It was in the dead of winter in the northern hemisphere, the conditions meant that the odds of at least somebody perishing were extremely high. Five individuals were injured or hospitalised but no one perished. All 155 souls on board survived the water landing and immediately the story of the Miracle on the Hudson raced across the world. The incident was the inverse of September 11, 2001. An incident involving an aircraft and New York City where good prevailed, professionalism and heroism saved the day, people were rescued not murdered.

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At the centre of it all an airline pilot who had served in the United States Air Force, a Texan who had learnt to fly at 16 in a crop duster over clear prairie skies and had that cool 70s moustache from the golden age of air travel. In other words-America. Knee deep in casualty reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the fall out from the Global Financial Crisis here was the story New York, America and the world could feel good about. The movie Sully understands this but also understands that the word survivor is not used randomly, everybody on board went through an ordeal and they would happily have never gone through it if given the choice.

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Saying Tom Hanks portrayal here is his most low key does not give credit to his Captain John H. Miller or Jim Lovell but Sully is a very shy man at heart and Hanks embodies that. Not a perfect physical match for the real man American’s favourite everyman movie star was the inevitable choice and the role comes at the right moment for his age and in his career. There could’ve been more interesting choices but none better. The rest of the cast is superb, Aaron Eckhart is so laid back as co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles that it may be taken for granted how good his performance is. Looking more like his real life counterpart than Hanks, Eckhart is laidback but more expressive than his co-star. Skiles had only just qualified on the Airbus but was a Captain in his own right demoted due to airline cutbacks (basically experienced and overqualified for the job he was doing). A lot of focus and attention has gone the way of the man who said “My aircraft” and took the controls and not much to the co-pilot and Skiles has weathered that with good humour and grace but Sully will be the first to tell you there were two men in that cockpit that day and both did their jobs superbly. I was pleased to see Skiles as a buttress of support in this film and a calm assertive figure in the narrative. Watch a scene where Skiles makes it easy for Sully to meet him downstairs. Eckhart is so natural as the character that beneath a brown moustache long term fans of the actor have failed to recognise him. Possibly too low key for an Oscar run hopefully some lauded film critics society will tap Eckhart for his performance here and give him an award.

 

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Eastwood always an actor at his best when dialled down gets similar performances form a wealth of character actors including Molly Hagan, Ann Cusack, Jamey Sheridan, Valerie Mahaffey but Laura Linney who shined against type in Mystic River is wasted here. Reduced to playing scenes of calling each other across the other side of the country Hanks and Linney do well. We get that his wife is part of his strength, we feel their isolation and we see how disruptive the investigation and media attention was to the family. These scenes convey a lot that is important to know but they are conventional wife scenes in these kinds of films. It would be fair to suspect there was more to it in real life; Sully’s wife is in her own right a strong, layered and inspiring woman. Image result for sully filmYou won’t get half of that from this film and that’s nothing against Linney. Faring not much better are the air hostesses who played the biggest role in evacuating the plane in a timely and safe manner. Their professionalism is conveyed in telling body language. As the lights fade out in the plane they move forward with a smile telling people to keep their seatbelts on before surmising to each other we’re turning back. But blink and you’ll miss just how important it was that Doreen Welsh (Molly Hagan a long way from Herman’s Head) wounded by the crash with water streaming into the back of the plane got passengers to turn around head out through the forward exits. More justice is done to the calm professional and earnest work done by FAA Air Traffic Control Specialist Patrick Harten. Harten’s scenes are done with minimal fuss and lots of close ups on the actor Patch Darragh. Calm, professionalism, minimal. Those words get used a lot to describe the actions and demeanour of people in a crisis who come through. It’s difficult to not repeat them throughout a review of this film or a recollection of this story. These people were calm and professional and did their jobs with a minimum of fuss.

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As filmmaker Clint Eastwood’s films often bear these hallmarks too, the ‘action’ sequences cut all music, bear few flourishes with camera movement but have a grounded real world approach. Compare the nightmare Sully has at the beginning to the actual water landing later in the picture. There is no music played, the insides of the aircraft have been painstakingly recreated to be as true to what was there on the day as possible. The effect is to put you in that moment as best they can and to not do anything that will remind you – you are watching a film. Weeks after Suicide Squad, it is a joy to see effects in service to story and action that is both moving and involving. If the special effects house has done a decent if not mind blowing recreation of the flight then several practical effects cannot be faulted. Considering how difficult it is to recreate such a scene that few saw the achievement of the effects is in keeping with the tone of the film.

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Clint Eastwood is 86 years old this year and it’s fair to suggest maybe that every film he makes he is putting forward his views on the world as a parting message. The director has been doing that since at least Unforgiven and maybe even all the way back to Play Misty for Me and he’s rebelled against expectations again and again. White Hunter Black Heart was not a jovial biopic about a beloved Hollywood director making his greatest film, at the height of Rambo mania Heartbreak Ridge was mostly a service comedy and surprisingly romantic, Gran Torino which promised Eastwood reclaiming his star persona had something to say about the cyclical nature of violence and Million Dollar Baby was not just a heart-warming sports movie. Sully is not just about two pilots landing a passenger jet on a river. Clint Eastwood is not a director known for his subtlety but his images have haunted throughout the years. He chooses exactly the second the first ferry arrived to rescue the first passenger off the wing to play music. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre I attended at that moment, subtle can be overrated sometimes. Hanks plays Sully’s relief at hearing the magical number of survivors in the hospital with a noticeable turn of his face and holding back tears. Yet look afterwards when Hanks walks over to a window and holds his tie around his shoulders like a man finishing a long day at the office.  Image result for sully and skilesSee Eastwood line up a shot of Hanks ascending the ferry stairs with the plane in the background. Some of these choices are more nuanced and when they are not they are truly moving. The adults are making a blockbuster today kids so just sit back down and learn a thing or two.

A couple of themes resonate, Eastwood celebrates the human factor of what the cockpit crew did, when technology failed them, rather than going through the PAM or worrying about the odds Sullenberger ‘eyeballed’ it. Eastwood wants to celebrate a man making the call in the heat of the moment and backing himself and places the Safety Board investigating the landing as villains who don’t know what it is to have been there. Their hard 180 reverses throughout the film are the kind of black hat obviousness that Eastwood is famous for, you may recall how repugnant Hilary Swank’s family was in Million Dollar Baby.

Eastwood also plays up the dichotomy of a man being celebrated in the media as a hero as he is being torn apart behind closed doors with his reputation, pension, career and life’s work on the line while trying to quietly endure post-traumatic stress. You get the sense despite Katie Couric’s presence that Eastwood doesn’t think much of the media. At one point a journalist stands on the river and reports live to the camera that the people on the plane located behind him “Have minutes to live.” It’s a subtle dig by Eastwood standards but the message is clear “Look at you standing there doing nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt once said “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly.

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Eastwood clearly celebrates Sully as the man in the arena but he places alongside him Skiles, Welsh, Donna Dent, Diane Higgins, Harten, the ferry crews, every passenger on that plane, the members of the NYPD, FDNY and USCG, the nurses, doctors and ambulance staff. The best of New York, of America, of humanity. These are things to be cherished and not to be lost as people who grew up in dustbowls, defeated Nazis and built the jet age give way to a generation who have never known the Middle East without war, the proliferation of unstable employment, reduced economic growth and social isolation. The world is troubled, as it was and always will be but we can meet any challenge if we remember who we are. At our best we’re Chesley Sullenberger and his team. Heroes.

-Lloyd Marken