After a while in front of the camera, some actors venture behind it and begin directing. Of course, unlike certain directors who make cameo appearances in their films (a la Alfred Hitchcock or Martin Scorsese); the directors who started with acting will often appear as the leading role in their films. Clint Eastwood is just such a director. What’s almost ironic about Clint Eastwood’s career is that, while most people recognize him for his iconic roles in western and detective dramas, the Academy has recognized him for his directing. Only twice has he been nominated for Best Actor, but he has been nominated for Best Director twice as many times, having actually won two of the gold statues for his films that also attained Best Picture status. This week’s two films focus on Clint Eastwood’s career as a director.
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours
Eastwood’s directing career started in 1971 with Play Misty for Me, in which he also acted as the lead role. The choice to be both behind and in front of the camera is probably due to the ease of communicating the desire of the director to the actor, thus simplifying and alleviating any problems that might come up during filming. In fact, perhaps due to the connection with the other actors and the ability to convey his needs as a director, it is no wonder that the two films he was nominated for Best Actor were also the films that ended up winning him both Best Director and Best Picture (for a grand total of four Oscars). However, as Clint Eastwood has aged, he has started to taper off in his acting/directing duality. As such, Gran Torino is the most recent film to feature Eastwood as the director and the actor.
If you would imagine Dirty Harry as a retired man living in Detroit, then you would adequately describe Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood). Because of an incident where his next-door neighbor’s son, Thao (Bee Vang), attempted to steal his car (the eponymous Gran Torino), he has reluctantly decided to let the boy pay off the infraction by doing chores around his house. Soon, the racist and stubborn old man is becoming a part of the Asian community that has taken over his neighborhood, partly because he stands up against the neighborhood gang. He also begins to warm up to Thao, taking him under his wing and showing him how to act like a man. Unfortunately, the gang violence escalates, leaving an already sick Walt with an option to end his life on his own terms. At the reading of his will, his ungrateful family gets nothing, but Thao finally gets the Gran Torino.
Million Dollar Baby
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours
Having acted for such great directors as Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood had a pretty good baseline to aim toward when he started to sit down in that director’s seat. His first nomination for directing ended up winning him the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture, even if he didn’t win for Best Actor. Unforgiven (1992) was just the first in a string of films that recognized Eastwood’s directing talent. While he was merely nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for Mystic River (2003) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and just Best Picture for American Sniper (2014), he did manage to earn the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars alongside his second Best Actor nomination for Million Dollar Baby (2004). Of course, even if he didn’t win for acting in this film, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman did: earning Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.
Once again exhibiting all variations of the adjective “cantankerous”, Clint Eastwood portrays Frankie Dunn, a man who runs a gym in Los Angeles. On the side, Frankie manages and trains boxers. Unfortunately, his most promising protégé signs with another manager because Frankie won’t let him try for the championship. At the same time, Dunn is constantly telling Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) that she’s too old to start a boxing career, even though she keeps coming back to his gym asking to be trained. She is relentless in her own training and her persistence and is eventually picked up by Dunn. He finds that she has natural talent, which now means other managers are scared to put their fighters in the ring against her. Taking a risk, he puts her in the junior welterweight class, eventually giving her a title match. His risk is then realized and he must now make a decision about whether Maggie lives or dies.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 classics from Clint Eastwood
Bacon #: 2 (Space Cowboys / William Devane -> Hollow Man / Kevin Bacon)