Directors: 
Clint Eastwood, Atom Egoyan, Sergei Eisenstein, Victor Erice, Jean Eustache, Chris Eyre

 

 

Eastwood, Clint

 

Kennedy Center: Biographical information for Clint Eastwood

As a director Clint Eastwood has the reputation of being one of the best in the world and of knowing exactly what he wants and how to get it. He’s been called “the most important small-town artist in America,” by Norman Mailer. As an actor he is a superstar, “perceived by audiences to be playing himself while turning that self into a receptacle for other folks’ fantasies,” says the Los Angeles Times.

Eastwood grew up in depression-era California, worked as a lumberjack in Oregon, taught swimming in the US Army, studied at Los Angeles City College on the GI Bill, and celebrated his 25th birthday by landing a $75-a-week contract at Universal Studios. His first three years in the movies were not especially encouraging, playing bit roles in a string of B-movies, including Revenge of the Creature, Francis in the Navy, and Ambush at Cimarron Pass. In 1959, while visiting a friend at CBS, he was spotted by a network executive and cast as cattle driver Rowdy Yates in the long-running series “Rawhide.” Though that show was not exactly an acting showcase, it did get him cast in the role that would make him a star-the man of few words and no name at the center of Sergio Leone’s legendary trilogy A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (made in Italy in 1966, released in the U.S. in 1967). It took courage to leave the comfort of a weekly hit television series to go work in Spain with an unknown director for little pay and zero prestige. But that move resulted in a dazzling transformation of image for Eastwood: from boyish, lovable, and highly principled to tough, grizzled, and morally ambiguous; from television juvenile to international movie icon. “Sex and violence rolled into one lean, inscrutable superstar package,” as the Los Angeles Times put it. The Western itself was also transformed and Eastwood and Leone together led this most American of movie genres into the modern era.

He came back to the States to play more tough guys in Hang ‘Em High, Coogan’s Bluff, Where Eagles Dare, and Kelly’s Heroes. By 1969 he was the world’s top box office draw.

For Eastwood, directing was something he was determined to do from his earliest days as an actor, and aside from Woody Allen, no contemporary star has directed more often than he has. In 1971, he made his debut behind the camera with the well-received thriller, Play Misty for Me. Since then he has directed just about every kind of movie-westerns, comedies, cop dramas, romances, and even a biopic.

Also in 1971, Eastwood introduced one of the screen’s most controversial and most crowd-pleasing characters ever in Dirty Harry. The fiercely independent, pistol-packing Detective Harry Callahan, who found it easier to shoot suspects than to interrogate them, would return four more times in Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988).

“Critics have increasingly come to recognize how Eastwood, from the beginning of his career, has played with and reworked his star persona through his films, now viewed as highly reflexive works,” notes the New York Times. He’s alternated adrenaline-pumping action movies such as Escape from Alcatraz and The Eiger Sanction, which exploit his macho image, with more personal and romantic films such as Honkytonk Man, Bronco Billy, and The Bridges of Madison County.

“I’ve played an awful lot of characters and they’re all different,” said Eastwood. “You always hoped the audience would follow you into expansion.” They did and so did the critics. He has been honored with film retrospectives in museums in Paris, Munich, London, and New York. In 1985, Pale Rider, which he directed and starred in, opened the Cannes Film Festival. In 1992, his masterful Western, Unforgiven, made almost all year-end “best ten” lists. The National Society of Film Critics as well as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Unforgiven best picture of the year and Eastwood best director. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, Unforgiven won four, including best film and best director.

“Today, Eastwood is blessed with mass audience appeal and critical respect that have afforded him a career rare in its longevity, even rarer in its artistic and personal freedom,” says the Los Angeles Times. “Most people who remember me, if at all, will remember me as an action guy, which is OK,” says Eastwood. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But there will be a certain group which will remember me for the other films, the ones where I took a few chances. At least, I like to think so.”

Film Reference  profile from Andrew Tudor
 
In 1992, after almost forty years in the business, Clint Eastwood finally received Oscar recognition. Unforgiven brought him the awards for Best Achievement in Directing and for Best Picture, along with a nomination for Best Actor. Indeed, this strikingly powerful Western was nominated for no less than nine Academy Awards, Gene Hackman collecting Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the movie's ruthless marshall, "Little Bill" Daggett, and Joel Cox taking the Oscar for editing. It seems appropriate, therefore, that this film, which brought him such recognition, should end with the inscription "Dedicated to Sergio and Don." For without the intervention and influence of his two "mentors," directors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, it is difficult to imagine Eastwood achieving his present respectability, let alone emerging as the only major star of the modern era who has become a better director than he ever was an actor.
 
That is not to belittle Eastwood, who has always been generous in crediting Leone and Siegel, and who is certainly far more than a passive inheritor of their directorial visions. Even in his Rawhide days of the 1950s and early 1960s he wanted to direct; more than once Eastwood has told of his attempts to persuade that series' producers to let him shoot some of the action rather more ambitiously than was the TV norm. Not surprisingly, they were reluctant, but they did in the end allow him to make trailers for upcoming episodes. He was not to take on a full-fledged directorial challenge until 1971 and Play Misty for Me, but in the intervening years he had become a massive boxoffice attraction as an actor, first with Leone in Europe in the three famous and founding "spaghetti westerns," and then in a series of films with Siegel back in the United States, most significantly Dirty Harry. It is not easy to untangle the respective influences of his mentors. In general terms, because they both contributed to the formation of Eastwood's distinctive screen persona, they helped him to crystallize an image which, as a director, he would so often use as a foil. The Italian Westerns' "man with no name," and his more anguished urban equivalent given expression in Dirty Harry's eponymous anti-hero, have provided Eastwood with well-established and economical starting characters for so many of his performances. In directing himself, furthermore, he has used that persona with a degree of irony and distance. Sometimes, especially in his Westerns, that has meant leaning toward stylization and almost operatic exaggeration (High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider, the last section of Unforgiven), though rarely reaching Leone's extremes of delirious overstatement. On other occasions, it has seen him play on the tension between the seemingly assertive masculinity of the Eastwood image and the strong female characters who are so often featured in his films (Play Misty for Me, The Gauntlet, Heartbreak Ridge and, in part at least, The Bridges of Madison County). It is, of course, notoriously difficult to both direct and star in a movie. Where Eastwood has succeeded in that combination (not always the case) it has depended significantly on his inventive building on the Eastwood persona.
 
It is important to give Eastwood full credit for this inventiveness in any attempt to assess his work. His best films as a director have a richness to them, not just stylistically—though in those respects he has learned well from Leone's concern with lighting and composition and from Siegel's way with in-frame movement, editing, and tight narration—but also a moral complexity which belies the onedimensionality of the Eastwood image. The protagonists in his better films, like Josey Wales in The Outlaw Josey Wales, Highway in Heartbreak Ridge, Munny in Unforgiven, even Charlie Parker in the flawed Bird, are not simple men in either their virtues or their failings. Eastwood's fondness for narratives of revenge and redemption, furthermore, allows him to draw upon a rich generic vein in American cinema, a tradition with a built-in potential for character development and for evoking human complexity without giving way to art-film portentousness.
 
In these respects Eastwood is the modern inheritor of traditional Hollywood directorial values, once epitomised in the transparent style of a John Ford, Howard Hawks, or John Huston (himself the subject of Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart), and passed on to Eastwood by that next-generation carrier of the tradition, Don Siegel. For these filmmakers, as for Eastwood, the action movie, the Western, the thriller were opportunities to explore character, motivation, and human frailty within a framework of accessible entertainment. Of course, all of them were also capable of "quieter" films, harnessing the same commitment to craft, the same attention to detail, in the service of less action-driven narratives, just as Eastwood did with The Bridges of Madison County. And all of them, too, could make films which were less than convincing, though rarely without some quality, as Eastwood has done more recently with the overwrought Absolute Power and the rather unfocused Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But in the end their and Eastwood's real art was to draw upon Hollywood's genre traditions and make of them unique and perceptive studies of human beings under stress. Though his directorial career has been uneven, at his best Eastwood has proved a more than worthy carrier of this flame.

 

Clint Eastwood.Net  official website
 
American Masters  an extensive site, including Eastwood Noir, a lengthy essay from Dave Kehr, also seen here:  American Masters . Clint Eastwood . Featured Essay | PBS
 
All-Movie Guide  bio from Bruce Eder
 
TCMDB  biography from Turner Classic Movies
 
Clint Eastwood  Deborah Allison from Senses of Cinema, July 2003
 

"We all have it coming, Kid": Clint Eastwood  Tim Groves from Senses of Cinema, Januray 2001

 

A tribute to Clint Eastwood - Time Out London Film - Time Out London  Adam Lee Davies

 

The Great Eastwood Project  Antti Ivanoff tribute site, including an extensive biography

 

A 75th Birthday Tribute to Clint Eastwood  4 part essay by Brad Lang

 

Classic Movies  profile page

 

Clint Eastwood  NNDB biography

 

Clint Eastwood | California Museum  portrait of a luminary

 

Tiscali Biography  another biography and filmography

 

Filmbug Biography  yet another

 

Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood movie, Clint Eastwood pictures ...  profile page from Bullz-Eye

 

Clint Eastwood Forums  fan discussion site

 

Clint Eastwood News  updated news and gossip reports

 

Classic TV Western Shows - Rawhide, Clint Eastwood, Eric Fleming ...

 

Destination Hollywood Tribute to Clint Eastwood

 

Clint Eastwood - Libertarian  Bill Winter

 

adherents.com The Religious Affiliation of actor/director Clint Eastwood

 

Clint Eastwood Icon Photo Gallery at AMCTV.com  photos

 

Clint Eastwood Image Galleries  more photos

 

Clint Eastwood by David Levine - The New York Review of Books   April 1, 1982 cartoon drawing

 

Clint Eastwood's Restaurant in Carmel California  Betsy Malloy from About.com (undated)

 

McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Clint Eastwood Film or Gay Porn?  (undated)

 

Clint Eastwood  Go Ahead, Punk Go Ahead, Clint, by Greg Wahl from Images (undated)

 

Clint Eastwood - "Scraps of Hope"  Henry Sheehan from Film Comment, September/October 1992

 

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award  1994 recipient

 

AFI Life Achievement Award: Clint Eastwood  1996 recipient

 

CNN - Eastwood settles 'career sabotage' lawsuit - Sept. 24, 1996  CNN

 

Blood Work  Chris Fujiwara from The Boston Phoenix, August 15, 2002

 

Entertainment Weekly Photo Gallery: Clint Eastwood  Filmography:  Clint Eastwood, Chris Nashawaty from Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2006

 

"Clint Eastwood Still Riding High"  Dave Rochelson from ABC News, February 8, 2007

 

Eastwood Receives French Honor  BBC news, February 17, 2007

 

Clint Eastwood and Other Illustrious Artists Honor Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck  University of the Pacific, March 14, 2007

 

Berkley makes Eastwood's day at MJF  Jessica Bailiff from the Monterey Jazz Festival, September 24, 2007

 

Clint Eastwood Receives Berklee Degree at Monterey Jazz Festival (news release)  September 24, 2007, which includes a video

 

"Clint Eastwood: Eight Who Dominate"  Steven Gaydos from Variety, February 4, 2008

 

Clint Eastwood targets the legacy of Dirty Harry - Los Angeles Times  Geoff Boucher, June 1, 2008

 

Clint vs. Spike: WWII racial grudge match! - Beyond the Multiplex ...  Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, June 11, 2008

 

guardian.co.uk Gentle man Clint, November 2, 2008  Elizabeth Day from The Observer, November 2, 2008

 

Clint Eastwood retires: His top 10 best and worst film roles ...  Steve Anglesey from The Mirror, including video clips of the 5 best and 5 worst, November 24, 2008

 

Clint Eastwood, Once More With Feeling! | The New York Observer  Christopher Rosen, November 28, 2008

 

The Films Are for Him. Got That?  Bruce Headlam from The New York Times, December 10, 2008

 

Clint Eastwood shines up his 'Gran Torino'  Geoff Boucher from The LA Times, January 7, 2009

 

Kingdom of the Blind Pt 1  Matt Zoller Seitz from Moving Image Source, December 1, 2009

 

Kingdom of the Blind Pt 2  Matt Zoller Seitz from Moving Image Source, December 3, 2009

 

Will This Clint Eastwood Movie Be Any Good? Vulture Does the Math  Bilge Ebiri from NY magazine’s Vulture, October 21, 2010

 

Why Clint Matters  Bilge Ebiri from They Live By Night, November 14, 2010

 

Eastwood, Clint  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

Clint Eastwood - Interview  Stuart Fischoff interview from Psychology Today, January 1, 1993

 

Urban Cinefile Feature  A Wreck of a Hero, interview after TRUE CRIME by Nick Roddick in 1999

 

Urban Cinefile Feature  Laid Back Space Cowboy, interview after SPACE COWBOYS by Jenny Cooney Carrillo, September 29, 2000

 

Urban Cinefile Feature   New Heart, Old Bones, interview after BLOOD WORK by Jenny Cooney Carrillo, November 14, 2002

 

DGA Article  Conversation with a Director and his Team, article and interview by Ted Elrick, September 2003

 

BBC Films  Stella Papamichael interview from the BBC, October 10, 2003

 

Henry Sheehan Interview  November 19, 2003

 

Film Comment   Amy Taubin interview, January 2, 2005

 

Bright Lights Film Journal | Interview with Clint Eastwood  Tony Macklin interview, February 2005

 

TIME  Richard Schickel interview from Time magazine, February 20, 2005

 

Charlie Rose show: An hour with Clint Eastwood  December 19, 2006 (video)

 

Guardian Interview (2007)  Philip French from the Guardian, February 25, 2007

 

Interview: Clint Eastwood | Film | The Guardian  Dirty Harry Comes Clean, Jeff Dawson interview, June 6, 2008

 

NYFF Interview: Clint Eastwood  Interview by Katey Rich from Cinema Blend, October 5, 2008

 

Clint Eastwood on Changeling: Angelina Jolie 'a fine actress hampered by beauty'  Interview by John Hiscock from The Telegraph, November 13, 2008

 

Do you feel lucky, punks? Then download this critical roundtable podcast on Clint Eastwood  Roundtable discussion on Eastwood by Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Akiva Gottlieb (The Nation), Kent Jones (Film Comment editor), Kevin Lee (Shooting Down Pictures), and Karina Longworth (Spoutblog editor), which can be heard on an MP3 podcast (audio), December 30, 2008

 

micropsia: 'Eighty? It's just a number' - Clint Eastwood Interview ...   Interview by Emma Brockes from Micropsia, February 9, 2009 

 

Clint: The Life and Legend  Gerald Peary, thoughts on Patrick McGilligan’s Eastwood biography, March 2000

 

"Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford to Clint ...  written by Jim Kitses, book review by Saige Walton from Senses of Cinema, December 2005

 

Clint Eastwood — www.greenwood.com  Clint Eastwood:  Evolution of a Filmmaker by John H. Foote (224 pages), brief comments

 

New York Film Academy's 20 Great Movie Directors

 

Clint Eastwood - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

PLAY MISTY FOR ME

USA  (102 mi)  1971

 

Play 'Misty' for John Cassavetes

 

SCORSESE: John [Cassavetes] was such a great artist, but he wasn't so tolerant of the genres of the Hollywood tradition. But at the same time, he was great friends with Don Siegel [who directed him in The Killers ], and he loved Don Siegel's pictures. And he loved Clint Eastwood's Play Misty for Me. I'll never forget what he said: "Have you seen what Clint has done? It's fantastic! With this great movie Clint has made, Play Misty for Me, it scares the Hell out of you!"

 

Time Out review  Tom Milne

 

Eastwood's first film as director, and first exploratory probe for the flaws in his macho image as outlined in Siegel's The Beguiled. A highly enjoyable thriller made under the influence of Siegel (who contributes a memorable cameo as a bartender), it casts Eastwood as a late-night Californian DJ who, flattered by the persistent attentions of a mysterious fan (Walter), lets himself be picked up for a one night stand before going back to his true love (Mills). Before long, blandly assuming an on-going relationship, Walter reveals herself to be a suicidal hysteric who won't take no for an answer; and poor Eastwood is driven into a corner like a mesmerised rabbit, unable to find a way out of the impasse without driving one of his two jealous women over the edge. From there it's but a step to the watcher in the bushes, the carving knife glittering in a darkened room, and a splendid all-stops-out finale.

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]

 

Clint Eastwood made a fine directorial debut with this very effective thriller that’s a precursor of 'Fatal Attraction,' which ripped off whole scenes from it. This is by far the better film.

 

Clint is Dave Garver, a popular DJ for an all-night jazz radio station. A woman (Jessica Walter) calls every night to request “Misty.” Soon she introduces herself as Evelyn, and Dave, playing the field in the wake of an uncertain relationship, goes to bed with her after she assures him there’ll be no strings attached. Dave’s former lover Tobie (Donna Mills) comes back to town, and he would like to rekindle the romance, but Evelyn gets in the way — she becomes posessive, first in small ways, then in frightening, destructive ways.

Evelyn, it turns out, is not only exceptionally needy and insecure, she’s also a psychopath. A laid-back guy like Dave would naturally resist commitment, and Evelyn holds him to everything he says, reading messages of love where there are none, going more and more overboard, until finally Dave comes home one afternoon to find his furniture trashed and his cleaning lady slashed. And that’s not the end.

 

Clint’s direction is sometimes shaky but usually assured, and he gets a bold performance from Jessica Walter, who manages to be most scary when she’s least threatening. Evelyn isn’t given a past, so there’s no psychobabble explaining why she’s berserk; Walter’s mannerisms and general aura of desperation tell us all we need to know.

 

The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers]

 

This Distracted Globe [Joe Valdez]

 

Chris Jarmick review [4/5]

 

DVD Talk (Earl Cressey) dvd review [4/5]

 

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3/5]  Richard Scheib

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

DVD Review e-zine dvd recommendation  Shawn Harwell

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Scott Weinberg]

 

Urban Cinefile dvd review  Richard Kuipers

 

KQEK (Mark R. Hasan) dvd review

 

Edinburgh U Film Society (Neil Chue Hong) review

 

And You Call Yourself a Scientist! (Liz Kingsley) review  comparing the film to FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)

 

Variety review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (Roger Greenspun) review

 

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER                                       B-                    81

USA  (105 mi)  1973  ‘Scope

 

The entire film plays out like a dream sequence, beginning and ending as if drifting in and out of a mirage-like haze, with eerie music that sounds like a Twilight Zone episode.  And in fact, that’s pretty much what it is, the story of an avenging angel who comes back to the small town of Lago to hold people accountable for their greed, corruption and murderous ways, now hiding behind their piousness and sanctimonious morality, all of which is built on a pack of lies.  To this degree, it resembles the tone of John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980), which after revealing itself as an unexplained natural mystery, slowly tightens its noose around the entire town until eventually corpses begin rising from the dead.  Eastwood’s film is a little more understated, a revenge saga told like a parable, with a deadly solemn tone throughout.  Eastwood is another one of his Man with No Names, known only as the Stranger, who rides into town one day, is accosted by three thugs which chose the wrong guy to pick on, as he immediately blows the three away in broad daylight.  Too bad for them.  When a corseted blond sashays directly into his path, followed by a stream of insults, one might think he would give her a spanking.  Not so, as instead he pulls her into the barn and rapes her, again in broad daylight, this time in front of the entire town standing there watching.  This is a bit disconcerting, as there’s some things you just don’t do to a lady, and this is certainly one of them, but this is also a clue that this is no ordinary avenging angel, as is his survival in a bathtub which she shoots full of holes in anger.  But he has nary a scratch.   

 

The gist of the story is then revealed in a dream sequence, which is an apparent flashback into the Stranger’s life when he was the town sheriff and was about to report a mining company’s boundary infraction, to their advantage of course, but was whipped to death by a crew of outlaws while the entire town stood and watched.  Now the Stranger is back, completely unrecognizable to anyone in town, who have kept quiet about this incident ever since, though the three outlaws were sent to prison for murder, and are about to be released.  At seeing what the Stranger can do with a gun, they immediately hire him, offering him whatever he wants that the town can provide, if he’ll protect them from the outlaws return.  Basically, they’re asking him to cover up their initial cover up.  This borders on the ridiculous, reminiscent of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961), where the outlaw plays head games with a town with two warring factions.  Interesting, since the Sergio Leone westerns starring Eastwood, especially A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), borrowed liberally from Kurosawa, including the exaggerated facial close ups, the lone gunman slowly ambling out into the street in a cloud of dust, the leaves blowing, the window shutters on the street locked shut by panic stricken and hysterical townsfolk, all shivering in fear, while his dusty, sweaty opponent enters the street, usually covered by at least a half-dozen, rifle-toting henchmen, while eerie, percussive music plays to accentuate the heightened sense of anxiety.  But Eastwood directing on his own is toned down to the bare essentials, accentuating a mood of the austere, where the Stranger is a man of purpose.  Even his presence has an Eastern sense, as he appears to be a wandering spirit who is restless because no one has bothered to put a marker on his grave.    

Few westerns exclusively play the revenge card like this one, though Eastwood tried it again with PALE RIDER (1985), both by the way shot by Bruce Surtees. 

 

Time Out review

 

As gravestone inscriptions in the town of Lago (painted red and renamed Hell by the phantom drifter) make clear, this was supposed to be Eastwood's fond adieu to the worlds of Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; and indeed he cuts the operatic excess of the former with the punchy economy of the latter. Yet the way Ernest Tidyman's script is submitted to distortion and distension, and fitted with Bruce Surtees' almost surreal images (and several twists of the ghostly revenge plot itself), suggest nothing so much as Eastwood returning for reference to the popular Japanese cinema from which Leone himself first borrowed for the Dollars films. Whatever, there's a boldness, confident stylisation, and genuine weirdness to the movie that totally escaped other post-spaghetti American Westerns, with a real sense of exorcism running both through and beyond it.

 

Edinburgh U Film Society (Iain Harral) review

After starring in a few of Sergio Leone's more famous Spaghetti westerns, Eastwood picks up the director's reins as well as those of the leading part in a really quite extraordinary gothic western.

Haunted by the guilty knowledge that they stood by and did nothing while their sheriff was horsewhipped to death and fearing the imminent release of his three killers, the citizens of Lago decide to offer Eastwood, the enigmatic 'Man with No Name', anything he wishes in payment for his protection from the murderous gangs' return.

Eastwood's consequent exploitation of the townsfolk is outrageous but somehow strangely satisfying and provides a great deal of the film's wry humour. Indeed, High Plains Drifter takes almost sadistic pleasure in the humiliating treatments meted out to Lago's more unpleasant inhabitants as the thread of the moral lesson of this particular Western unwinds, seemingly as a pointed (but still wickedly funny) condemnation of their apathy and cowardice. As the gunfighter; Eastwood is a joy, as capable of razor sharp one-line ripostes and blunt witticisms as he is of twirling his six-shooter like only cowboys know how.

Slightly surreal in places, High Plains Drifter is perhaps one of the more off-beat, and as result, fascinating post-spaghetti American Westerns. As a tale of revenge, it is carried along by a powerful eerieness and an undercurrent of mordant dark humour to what is realty a pretty unusual climax.

Turner Classic Movies review  Michael Atkinson

 

The western is America’s most famous and iconic film genre – automatically making it one of the world’s predominant narrative templates – and over more than a century of cinema it has been put to every use imaginable, from cheap programme filler to mammoth Cinerama epic to farce to bloodbath. The last great surge of westerns, known evocatively as "the anti-western" and exemplified by the films of Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman, came during the ‘Nam era, when convenient myths about American good and evil were universally called into question. Here, the western set of totems and stereotypes – good guy, bad guy, gunfight, hard-working frontier town – were interrogated right down to their amoral hypocrisy and pathological psyches, a process that no film underwent as explicitly as Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973).

Which is not to suggest that Eastwood’s movie is a dead-serious intellectual indictment – it’s raw pulp, with plenty of adolescent overripeness and crude narrative ideas. But the bones of it are outrageously metaphoric, as much as any western since Monte Hellman’s mysterious, seminal cheapie The Shooting (1967). Eastwood plays a nameless gunslinger who simply rides into Lago, a small, spare mining town built on the edge of a huge mountain lake. He doesn’t talk much, in the classic early-Eastwood vein, but the townspeople are all wary, suspicious, openly hostile and plagued with shame. Our anti-hero is confronted time and again, leading to a few impromptu corpses and, in the film’s most wildly questionable scene, a rape of the town trollop (Marianna Hill). Interestingly, we hardly blink at this laconic gunhand dispatching a few antagonistic frontier men with pistol blasts to the forehead and chest, but the rape – which like everything else in the film is involved with a protracted plan for retribution – sticks in our contemporary craw, even if the hateful woman in question does eventually return with her own gun, seeking vengeance.

In any case, it becomes clear that what we’ve got here is a postmodern morality play, in which justice is methodically served but no one is heroic or good at heart. The town’s backstory hovers over the action like a thunderhead – in the recent past, a sheriff who’d been gearing up to report the mining company’s territorial infractions got horsewhipped to death in town, and virtually every citizen had either participated or watched. All have remained silent since. Structurally mix-‘n-matching aspects of High Noon (1952), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and Forty Guns (1957, as well as hearkening forward to Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven, 1992), the film also has metaphysical implications – Eastwood’s mystery man is either a ghost, an avenging angel, or simply a walking-talking deus ex machina, personifying the townspeoples’ self-immolating guilt, and preparing to bring grief to an American frontier founded on bloodshed, capitalist greed, rampant self-interest and immigrant exploitation. (Eastwood, shying away from the supernatural, has stated more than once that he had always thought of his character as the dead sheriff’s brother, but the film never suggests this, and offers only notions of cosmic eeriness.)

Taking advantage of the town’s quaking fear over a trio of returning outlaws (led by Geoffrey Lewis, Juliette’s dad), the gunslinger essentially takes over, making a put-upon midget (Billy Curtis) sheriff and mayor, having a lavish welcome-home picnic set up for the impending criminals, and forcing the townspeople to literally paint the entire town blood red (one of the gritty ‘70s’ most Boschian images). Eastwood’s character even renames the town ‘Hell’ in red paint on the sign at the town limits, further suggesting an Old Testament reading – or even an existentialist view, in which Hell, as per Sartre’s No Exit, is no more than our own sins and our own communities. Either way, you cannot escape the fact that all westerns are about America in symbolic terms, and in High Plains Drifter the only America we see is Lago itself, rotten and secretive and visited by divine winds of reprisal. Despite his dogged ham-and-egger-ism, Eastwood has fashioned a parable about our national state of mind and its long history of carnage and usurpation, and despite his apparently ambivalent attitude towards state violence (compare the neocon Heartbreak Ridge (1986) to Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and commence the head scratching), he has made a film, in an era chockablock with such films, about the injustice of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

It’s a good thing High Plains Drifter is such a rich and thorny creature in its ambiguities and abstracted subtexts, because on the surface it does indulge in hammy TV acting (mostly from a supporting cast full of faces familiar from old TV westerns like Rawhide and Bonanza), and veers close to being simplistic and cheesy in its attitudes toward women, gunplay and tough-guy patois. As for Eastwood, he had shown such vulnerability two years earlier in his directorial debut Play Misty for Me (1971), but in this, his second shot at directing, he effectively transports himself back to the inexpressive, squinting Man with No Name of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. (Both "S. Leone" and "Don Siegel" are seen as names on gravestones.) But as we have learned in recent decades (from, among other devotees, Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton), one decade’s dismissible genre junk is another’s pop-culture commentary. Like other potent pulp from the late-‘60s-early-‘70s, – I’m thinking about George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes, Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971), Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974), Cornel Wilde’s No Blade of Grass (1970), etc. – Eastwood’s movie resonates beyond its grade-B trappings, and speaks eloquently in simple language about epochal social realities.

 

DVD Times  Mike Sutton

 

Film as Art [Danél Griffin]

 

Images Movie Journal  Elizabeth Abele

 

AboutFilm.com (Carlo Cavagna) review [B+]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Jay Seaver) review [5/5]

 

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [4/5]  Richard Scheib

 

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [4/5]  Brad Laidman, also seen here:  Brad Laidman: Elvis Needs Boats review

 

Ruthless Reviews review  Erich Schulte

 

The Video Vacuum [Mitch Lovell]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Chris Parry) review [5/5]

 

George Chabot's Review

 

Bill's Movie Emporium [Bill Thompson]

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

CineScene.com (Kristen Ashley) review

 

FilmFanatic.org

 

Filmicability with Dean Treadway

 

Digital Retribution  Mr. Intolerance 

 

Brad Laidman: Elvis Needs Boats

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Edwin Jahiel <ejahiel@uiuc.edu> review

 

The Spinning Image (Graeme Clark) review

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews (Dennis Schwartz)

 

DVD Verdict - Clint Eastwood: Western Icon Collection [Dan Mancini]   reviewing TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, also JOE KIDD

 

High Plains Drifter: Classic Movie Location Found on the Shores of Mono Lake!  VorMedia 

 

TV Guide review

 

Variety review

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

 

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES                           B+                   92

USA  (135 mi)  1976  ‘Scope

 

A gorgeous looking ‘Scope film shot by Bruce Surtees, who also shot HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), that uses a near wordless opening montage of changing events that reveal the backstory even before the opening credits roll, maximizing its use of authentic landscape, impressively revealing the West as a place of great expanse while contrasting that against the psychological boundaries that exist within a man’s mind, where despite the limitless horizons, a man can not run from his past.  Eastwood plays Josey Wales, a dirt poor farmer from Missouri whose life changes when his wife and son are murdered and his house burned to the ground by renegade Union troops known as Redlegs led by a cutthroat officer, Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney), whose job is to demoralize what’s left of the South by leading brutal massacres.  Wales joins a team of Confederate raiders led by Commander Fletcher, John Vernon, who vow revenge, but after a few operations together the war soon ends, leaving them an armed but rag-tag group with no war to fight and nowhere to go but back home, all but Josey Wales, who has no home to return to.  As these men turn themselves and their weapons over to a Union outpost, all part of an amnesty agreement, they are double-crossed and shot down in cold blood by none other than Captain Terrill, where Wales leads a valiant rescue attempt, but he is only able to rescue a young kid (Sam Bottoms) who is severely wounded.  When the kid starts singing “The Rose of Alabama,” we know the end is near.  Thus begins Eastwood’s transformation from a simple farmer to a reluctant killer back to a human being, but there are plenty more bodies collected along the way. 

 

Blamed for the murder of the men gunned down in his unit, Josey Wales goes on the run, turned into a legendary and mythical figure whose exploits have been exaggerated throughout the territory, all an excuse for Terrill to track him down like a dog, he and any other bounty hunters scraping out a meager existence looking to collect the hefty reward money.  The film shifts into a road movie as Josey Wales starts collecting a few stragglers along the way, more outsiders and derelicts who don’t fit into society anywhere else, led by Chief Dan George (and his castaway dog) who adds a comical turn as a disgruntled Cherokee Indian whose domestication to reservations has stolen his Indian identity, not to mention his wife and family who lost their lives on the Trail of Tears.  His distrust of the white men matches Josie’s own view of betrayal and human loss.  But they also pick up a stray Indian girl (Geraldine Keams) who herself has been victimized, also a Unionist group of Kansas pioneers led by the complaining grand matriarch Paula Trueman who doesn’t trust anybody, hauling her granddaughter Sandra Locke in tow, but granny reveals after an attack by marauding outlaws that she’d rather ride with the contemptible Josey Wales than with the Commanches.  

 

One of the better portrayals in the Eastwood repertoire, the film sets a somber and reflective tone, maintaining the strong, silent image of Clint as a fabled gunslinger, using his macho persona that he already established from the Sergio Leone trilogy, but here he is haunted by his past, plagued by scars deeper than the one etched on his face, and at least attempts a revisionist history about the American West, telling the truth about the massacre of Indians, the open prejudice and hostility displayed by western settlers toward Indians, while also revealing the presence of roving gangs that terrorized the country even after the Civil War was over, as a distrustful anxiety continued to spread thoughout the initial stages of this reformatted Union creating a palpable mistrust of government that exists to this day.  Adapted from a source novel Gone to Texas by Forrest Carter, who is part Cherokee Indian, the excellent screenplay is written by Philip Kaufman who was the original director as well, but thinking his shooting style was too slow, Eastwood, who had secured the rights to the book and was executive producer, eventually took over.  If any Eastwood movie shows insight into the director’s own world view it is this one, much more personal than it at first appears and always cited as one of Eastwood’s own favorites, as the character Josey Wales believes that by their own actions governments have shown they are dishonorable, whether it be Union or Confederate, but individual men have the capacity to remain honorable to one another, perhaps the last vestiges of morality left after the ravages of war, and it is this creed that forms a more perfect Union.   

 

Time Out review

 

A remarkable film which sets out as a revenge Western: Eastwood sees his family massacred and joins the Confederate guerillas; after the Civil War, he is hunted by Union soldiers while he pursues his family's slayer and a friend apparently turned traitor. But slowly the film changes direction, until through a series of comic interludes it becomes the story of a man who (re)discovers his role as family man, as he befriends Indians and various strays and leads them to a paradise of sorts where they can forget their individual pasts. If that seems like a rewrite of Hawks' Red River, visually The Outlaw Josey Wales is closest to Anthony Mann in its breathtaking survey of American landscapes (and seasons). Most importantly, after a period of directorial uncertainty, the film demonstrated Eastwood's ability to recreate his first starring role, as the mythic Man with No Name of the Italian Westerns, and to subtly undercut it through comedy and mockery.

 

eFilmCritic.com review [5/5]  Slyder

 

Clint Eastwood has always had a sure hand on Westerns ever since he debuted on Rawhide and did with Sergio Leone the Man with No Name Trilogy as well as several others. But Eastwood always worried about showing the awful truth amongst the genre which has been full of clichés ever since John Wayne rode off with his babe into the sunset in his wagon. It would all culminate with his masterful Unforgiven, but before that, he was well on his way with classics like High Plains Drifter and this little film, which stands as a high watermark in the revisionist western genre.
 
Josey Wales (Eastwood) is a quiet southern farmer who falls victim of the brutal Redleg gang since his family’s raped and murdered and he’s left for dead. Hell-bent on revenge, Wales finds out that the Redleg gangs is with the Union Army of the North and with a group of farmers headed by “Bloody Bill” Anderson, he joins the Southern Cavalry and the Civil War. The North eventually wins the war over the south, and the farmers whom fought simply to defend their land are now the last of the holdouts. Wales though, has no one to go back to and his thirst for revenge will forever make him an outlaw. After being framed for the killing of the farmers, Wales flees while the Redleg Posse headed by Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney) and including Fletcher (John Vernon) the man who turned in the farmers and was betrayed and now is forced to ride with them, rallies after Wales.

Eastwood and cinematographer Bruce Surtees easily capture the rugged and wild nature of the West, shooting with dark depressed colors and epic-like faded landscapes. The film is long, clocking at 135 minutes, deliberately paced but never boring and it allows the script and characters to develop accordingly. Jerry Fielding’s score stands amongst the finest scores out there and helps the film in certain times when the pace threatens to deaden. Just as he did before with High Plains Drifter, Eastwood takes the premise he originally laid in the Man with No Name Triology as blueprint and further evolves it, bringing in significant new topics which help debunk several myths which the Western genre was once associated with. Thanks to screenwriters Sonia Chernus and the renowned Philip Kaufman (whom was originally to direct the film but fired by Eastwood), no more are the Northern Armies and Southern Armies over-generalized as the saviors of the republic and the evil racist barons respectively. Many people in the south, General Robert E. Lee included didn’t care or agreed with the Confederacy, yet they fought for the south to defend their land, and there will always be bandits whether it’s in the north or in the south.

The subject of the Indians is also touched once Wales meets Lone Wattie (Chief Dan George) and his telling of how the Indians were taken away from their land and resettled. This pretty much blows away the cliché of Indians being a bunch of ignorant savages as a whole new light is shed with these scenes as well as the scene in which Wales confronts Comanche chief Ten Bears (Will Sampson). Wales is also given quite an interesting development, ending somewhat between both a hero and anti-hero, mean with his guns but compelled to help people who have fallen in a similar situation like him (an Indian named Moonlight [Geraldine Keams] and a pair of Kansas natives Granny Sarah [Paula Trueman] and Laura Lee [Sondra Locke looking hotter than ever] whom later be Wales’s love interest); all of this in his quest to somewhat find peace of mind, but with his past haunting him and chasing him down, he never will find it, and he will always be at war until he finally settles it once and for all.
 
In the end, this is a superbly crafted piece, featuring a strong direction, an engrossing, well-developed story and fine performances all around. The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of the finer Westerns of the genre and along with High Plains Drifter, a prelude to what was to come. 4.5-5

 

Reel.com dvd review [3.5/4]  Tor Thorsen (link lost)

 

The '70s weren't exactly the best time to make Westerns. Citing declining public interest and dwindling grosses during the decade, a major entertainment industry journalist went so far as to call the genre "financial leprosy." Yet two of the best Westerns ever were made during the disco era — High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales, both starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. Drifter has been available on a handsome, if bare-bones, DVD from Universal. Now, however, Warner Bros. has released a freshly remastered version of Outlaw as part of its Clint Eastwood Collection, and it's been well worth the wait.

Outlaw was based on The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales, Forrest Carter's novel about a defiant Confederate guerilla who leaves a trail of good deeds and shot-up Union soldiers behind him on his journey from Missouri to Texas. To say it was unknown in 1974 is an understatement — it had a print run of only 75 copies from a tiny Southern publishing house. As much out of desperation as admiration, Carter sent a copy to Eastwood's film company, Malpaso, where a bored production assistant just happened to give it a casual read. So impressed was the assistant by the character of Wales, that he recommended the book to his boss, who immediately wanted to turn it into a film. But no sooner had Eastwood started production on the film than Forrest landed a major publishing deal to release the novel — re-titled Gone to Texas — which went on to be a best-seller.

How do I know all this? Because the "Hell Hath No Fury: The Making of The Outlaw Josey Wales" featurette on the Outlaw DVD told me so. Although it's a bit heavy on plot exposition at first, the half-hour mini-documentary is the highlight of the disc, an informative treat that more than abrogates any need for a commentary track. It extensively covers the pre-production re-writing of the story, which co-screenwriter Phillip Kaufman reworked from a the-South-will-rise-again drama to a humanistic adventure. Unfortunately, "Hell" barely mentions the juiciest story from Outlaw's production — the "creative differences" that made Eastwood yank the director's reins from Kaufman 10 days into the shoot. However, the featurette makes up for this shortcoming with extensive interviews with stars Eastwood, Sam Bottoms (Lance from Apocalypse Now), Bill McKinney (a long-time Eastwood collaborator), Geraldine Keams, and John Vernon (best known as the basso profundo-voiced Dean Wormer in Animal House). The only living star we don't hear from is Sondra Locke, whose decade-long romance with Eastwood started during Outlaw and ended in a bitter split in the mid-'80s.

"Hell" also features comments from editor Ferris Webster, who speaks glowingly of Eastwood's consummate filmmaking skill. This would sound like hyperbole, except for the fact that you can see the man in action in over 15 minutes of crisply preserved behind-the-scenes footage. Eastwood's calm demeanor is the polar opposite of Francis Ford Coppola's hysterics visible in Hearts of Darkness. Granted, Outlaw was a much smaller-scale undertaking, but Eastwood's steady energy, unflappable patience, and command of the craft is simply Kurosawa-esque, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that he's starring in the film too. Listening to Eastwood eruditely explain why he likes shooting films in the fall (it's the angle of sunlight more than the colors) and watching him effortlessly nail one complex shot after another, it's hard to believe that one of his next films, Every Which Way But Loose, would co-star an orangutan.

Also included on the Outlaw DVD is the featurette called "Eastwood in Action." Reminiscent of the "Hero Cop" short on the Magnum Force DVD, its low-end production values and positively obsequious tone make it the 1970s equivalent of the cheesy "sneak peek" documentaries which pad 21st-century cable schedules. More enlightening are the text production notes and cast bios, which deliver funnier-than-usual trivia about the actors; for instance, did you know Vernon's real name is Adolphus Vernon Agoposwicz? There's also an appropriately macho trailer to boot.

As always, though, the real reason to get a film on DVD is the sound and picture quality, and the Outlaw Josey Wales disc doesn't disappoint. Digitally transferred from a richly hued print, the image likely looks better than it did in theaters back in 1975, with its 2.35:1 widescreen scope capturing the vastness and beauty of its Utah, Arizona, and California locations. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is a vast improvement too; delivering a lot of subtle wilderness ambience through the rear channels.

The audio-visual remastering and extras make Outlaw Josey Wales essential to any Western fan's DVD collection. What makes it quintessential is the end credits of the "Hell Hath No Fury" featurette, where Eastwood comments extensively and hilariously on Wales' signature habit — his aggressive spraying of chewing-tobacco spittle on dead foes, annoying salesmen, dogs, horses, insects, scorpions, and anything else that gets in his way. Besides adroitly explaining the totemic value of the chaw-spraying, he also says which brands of chewing tobacco he would use for each circumstance on the set. But parents shouldn't worry about their kids running out to guy a king-size pouch of Red Man — Eastwood officially discourages the habit, and pleads, laughing into the camera, "Please don't send me a free case! I don't want it!"

On Hell’s Hero Coming to Breakfast: Clint Eastwood and The Outlaw Josey Wales  Karli Lukas from Senses of Cinema, February 2004

 

DVD Times  Mike Sutton

 

Turner Classic Movies review  Scott McGee

 

Eye for Film (Jeff Robson) review [4.5/5]

 

914 (55). The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)  Kevin Lee from Also Like Life, May 25, 2008

 

Movieline Magazine review  Joshua Mooney

 

eFilmCritic.com (Brian McKay) review [5/5]

 

DVD Review  Guido Henkel

 

DVD Talk (Jason Bovberg) dvd review [4/5] [Special Edition]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review  Special Edition

 

Movie Reviews UK review [4/5]  Damian Cannon

 

George Chabot's Review

 

Grouch at Epinions.com

 

DVD Verdict (Norman Short) dvd review

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

User reviews  from imdb Author: ironside (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Michael Demtschyna

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

The Spinning Image (Graeme Clark) review

 

The Stop Button (Andrew Wickliffe) review [4/4]

 

Urban Cinefile dvd review  Shannon J. Harvey

The Outlaw Josey Wales  Dave Kehr from The Reader

Classic Film Guide (capsule)

 

Variety review

 

BBC Films (Almar Haflidason) dvd review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Richard Eder) review

 

THE GAUNTLET

USA   (109 mi)  1977  ‘Scope

 

Time Out review

 

'Big .45 calibre fruit! Macho mentality!' - Eastwood under siege as Sondra Locke leads the assault on his monolithic image. As much comedy as action picture, The Gauntlet mines the vein of humour discovered in The Outlaw Josey Wales: again most of the laughs are at Eastwood's expense. In his most mellow cop role yet, he plays a long-suffering, rather dumb officer who extradites a smart, fast-talking hooker, but ends up hiking her cross country, pursued by mob and cops alike (more identical than alike). The well paced script is an effective mixture of worldliness and naïveté: despite the couple's graphic sparring scenes, in which Eastwood more than meets his match, their relationship remains curiously innocent; a kind of fugitive romanticism pervades. A major source of amusement is watching Eastwood the director leaving Eastwood the actor barely in control throughout. Eastwood's Annie Hall?

Qwipster's Movie Reviews [Vince Leo]

Clint Eastwood (The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Eiger Sanction) stars as Ben Shockley, a Phoenix cop sent to Nevada to transport a key witness for a well-publicized mafia trial. The woman in question is a feisty prostitute named Gus Malley (Locke, Sudden Impact), and things begin to look bleak when the Vegas odds of their success in making it to the trial approach upwards of 100 to 1. Highly perilous adventures occur all along their journey, as it's uncertain who they can trust, and not getting along with each other doesn't help either.

Also directed by Eastwood, The Gauntlet is a preposterous and far over-the-top action flick that delivers entertainment while stretching the limits of credibility. Eastwood and Locke are fun to watch as they fight like a cat tied to a dog. and Eastwood, the director, appears to have had fun setting up the wild stunt pieces, which, while making little sense as far as realism, do offer some memorable highlights to talk about and laugh at (or with, as it were).

The sheer absurdity of The Gauntlet is a double-edged sword, making the film fun to watch, but also destroying the tense drama that might have played it if it stayed within the realm of reality.  The Gauntlet is recommended for Eastwood fans primarily, or just action fans in the mood for some no-brain entertainment.

User comments  from imdb (Page 7) Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico

Eastwood must have wondered what to do with his image after playing two sock 'em characters in earlier movies -- The Man With No Name, and Harry Callahan. What do I do now, Ma? It's easy to visualize Eastwood sitting down alone and frowning, because he's really thinking hard, you know? And kind of doing thought experiments. And ruminating somewhat along these lines: "The Western is headed toward the graveyard. Not much future there. The main battle in the early 1970s is in modern society, corrupt as it is, what with Watergate and whatnot. Dirty Harry Redux? No -- not yet. Not again. How can I remold this image in which I've been cast. Sergio Leone said that Michelangelo could look at a block of marble and see the man inside, but that he, Leone, could look at me and see the block of marble inside. Not very nice. A good thing he didn't speak English and I couldn't speak Italian. Wait! I think I've got it! We'll take Dirty Harry, give him a new name and location, and turn him upside down! Well -- sideways anyhow. We'll suggest that he's a drunk, but drop it pretty soon. There's a limit to how dirty we want this guy to be. And this time we'll -- that's it! -- we'll give him a girl!" Ben Shockley isn't the brightest cop on the planet, but despite that initial pint of booze falling out of his car, and his day-long stubble, he gets the job done. The job is picking up an informer in Las Vegas, Gus Malley, and getting him to Phoenix so he can testify. The Phoenix police force however is corrupt at the top and the betting in Vegas is against Shockley and Malley reaching Phoenix. Gus Malley turns out to be the ravishing, finely educated, and perceptive Sondra Locke. Eastwood once explained carefully to an interviewer why he had chosen her: he wanted to get away from the cliche of the dumb whore. Right, so he chose his beautiful young girl friend to play the hooker. (If he really wanted to avoid the cliche of the dumb whore, he could have chosen Colleen Dewhurst, except that she would have knocked him out of the box.) Nice photography, fantastic and unbelievable plot, with exploding ambulances, sniping, helicopter chases, an armored Greyhound bus and a house turned into lacework by fusillades of bullets. Nice performances by Bill McKinney as a Las Vegas policeman who is shot to pieces. (He's played so many mean parts that one is pleased when he gets it, even though he's nominally a good guy.) And by Pat Hingle, who deserved better. (Did anyone see him in "The Grifters"?) And especially by William Prince. Prince is a real smoothie, and a pleasure to watch, professionally competent as he is, and a Cornellian too. He had a decent role as a handsome young corpsman in "Destination Tokyo." Following that, he had virtually no lead parts but has turned in an interesting series of increasingly older character studies. (He was the likable sketch artist in "The Stepford Wives.") Sondra Locke is easy on the eyes. Speaking of eyes, hers seem an almost unbelievable cobalt blue. There's less to Eastwood's character here than meets the eye, no development to speak of, and nothing of much interest. The Greyhound bus, wheezing and sighing and flapping its tires, gives the best performance.

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

The Gauntlet   Eastwood plays dumb cop, by Robert Alpert from Jump Cut

 

George Chabot's Review

 

Brad Laidman: Elvis Needs Boats review

 

The Stop Button (Andrew Wickliffe) review [1.5/4]

 

Light Views, Reviews & Previews (John Larsen)

 

The Spinning Image (Graeme Clark) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby)

 

DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]  Gary W. Tooze

 

BRONCO BILLY

USA  (116 mi)  1980

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

A disarming movie, standing somewhere between a comic, contemporary version of The Outlaw Josey Wales (bunch of no-hopers finding fulfilment together) and Frank Capra (good 'little people', runaway heiress, scheming Eastern bureaucrats). Basically, it's the charming tale of a New Jersey shoe-salesman who fantasises about being a cowboy, and takes a group of assorted weirdos on the road with a travelling show. Not a lot to it in terms of plot, but Eastwood manages to both undermine and celebrate his character's fantasy life, while offering a few gentle swipes at contemporary America (the Stars and Stripes tent sewn together by mental hospital inmates). Fragile, fresh, and miles away from his hard-nosed cop thrillers, it's the sort of film only he would, and could, make.

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

Clint Eastwood's underappreciated Bronco Billy is an affectionate ode to the fading myth of the American West and the enduring power of the American Dream. Eastwood, in one of his first roles to examine his own Western icon status, plays the titular cowpoke, a former New Jersey shoe salesman-turned-sharpshooter. Billy is equal parts showman, dreamer, and den mother to a clan of outcasts that includes a Vietnam deserter (Sam Bottoms), a disgraced doctor (Scatman Crothers), a Native American and his wife (Dan Vadis and Sierra Pecheur), and a thief (Bill McKinney). The troupe makes a meager living putting on a cheerfully hokey cowboys-and-Indians show at carnivals, orphanages, and insane asylums, believing that fame and fortune -- or at least enough money for a few beers at the local watering hole -- waits just around the corner. At one out-of-the-way stop, Billy recruits as his new assistant Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke), a snooty heiress who's just been deserted by her dim bulb husband (Geoffrey Lewis). Slowly, he teaches her that life isn't something that's given to you, but what you make it. "Who do you think you are?" she asks Billy with a sneer. "I am who I want to be," he replies, verbalizing the film's steadfast conviction that the American Dream is alive and well. What's on its last legs, however, is the legend of the American West. Billy's crew, playing to dwindling audiences, represent the last vestiges of a bygone era of gunslingers and Native American warriors. The story can sometimes be silly -- Lewis' stay in a mental institution is both contrived and burdened with clunky symbolic baggage -- and Locke, as usual, gives a performance that's equal parts feisty and cloying. Yet the film's sincere affection for the antiquated cowboy is palpable, and allows slightly heavy-handed moments like Billy and company performing their climactic show in a patchwork tent made of American flags to retain their subdued, authentic poignancy.

Apollo Movie Guide [Ed Gonzalez]

Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) is an old-fashioned guy governed by old-fashioned principles. An ex-New Jersey shoe salesman, he heads a Wild West tent show to escape the banality of his previous existence. Replacing female assistants happens to be a daily occurrence, until a debutante named Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) enters his life and almost brings down the show single-handedly.

Much as in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, star/director Eastwood successfully captures his characters’ quirkiness. Billy’s tent show gang ranges from an Indian snake-wrangler to a rope-twirling draft dodger. We don’t learn a whole lot about these characters, so like the later film it is ultimately something akin to ‘Altman-Light’, but we learn enough to know that Billy is a well-meaning father figure.

Eastwood, much like Burt Reynolds’ character in Boogie Nights, welcomes everyone into an unconventional but strangely warm environment. These characters have abandoned careers as doctors or bank tellers to pursue something more enlightening, and Billy is happy to take them in. These people achieve solidarity and gain purpose by traveling the Mid West and providing people with old-style entertainment.

The plot revolves around Antoinette stumbling upon Bronco Billy in the midst of her marriage failing. Of course, a rich girl like Antoinette can’t just disappear, and her money-hungry stepmother convinces the family lawyer to accuse Antoinette’s wayward husband of murder.

As her family’s machinations unfold, Antoinette begins to feel at home in Billy’s world. A prudish and obnoxious woman, she eventually becomes the best assistant Billy has ever seen. This doesn’t make her any nicer, so Billy works hard to warm her heart.

This story of opposites that initially don’t attract is pretty basic and predictable stuff, but the film succeeds because of its old-fashioned humour. There’s nothing profound here and this is certainly not an accomplished morality tale like Unforgiven, but it is nonetheless a wonderful comedic diversion. The highlight of the film comes in the form of Eastwood and his posse trying to rob a train – like a flashback to his earlier career.

Eastwood is the star here and he gives a great performance as the nurturing father figure. Sondra Locke is more of an acquired taste, but I found her performance to be wholly appropriate in light of the type of character she is playing. Some might criticize Locke for not toning down the obnoxious persona once her character falls for Billy, but this honest portrayal works for me. And if there is something that Billy tries to teach everyone he encounters in his film, it is to abandon the banality of life and be yourself, embracing your full potential.

Urban Cowboy. Bronco Billy   Women, the Last Frontier, by Rachel Kranz from Jump Cut

 

CultureCartel.com (Lucas Stensland) review [5/5]

 

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [4/5]  also seen here:  Brad Laidman: Elvis Needs Boats review

 

DVDTown [John J. Puccio]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]

 

Cinepassion  Fernando F. Croce

 

Variety.com [Variety Staff]

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

HONKYTONK MAN

USA  (122 mi)  1982

 

Time Out review

 

One of the most oddball and heroically unfashionable superstar vehicles ever contrived. Only Eastwood, with the rest of Hollywood obsessed with taking us up where we belong, could have the audacity to play a comparatively odious and untalented country singer dying of consumption during the Depression. Much of the film is concerned with his picaresque pilgrimage to a Nashville audition along with nephew (played by Eastwood's son) and grandpappy (the excellent McIntire), and it culminates in a last-chance recording session during which the singer nearly coughs himself to death. The whole thing veers wildly in quality, and no Eastwood-hater should go within a mile of it; but few lovers of American cinema could fail to be moved by a venture conceived so recklessly against the spirit of its times.

 

Slant Magazine review  Eric Henderson

 

Clint Eastwood's dust bowl drama Honkytonk Man is a sensitive road picture about a mostly luckless aspiring country music singer. It was also one of the earlier films directed by Eastwood to reveal the unmistakable disparity between the silent assassin persona audiences had come to embrace in him and the much gentler humanist behind the camera. Anchored by an unforced if slightly episodic screenplay by Clancy Carlile (based on his own novel), Eastwood cast his own son Kyle as his on-screen nephew, Whit. The two of them (accompanied by a mostly peripheral Grandpa figure) escape the parched Okie land on a road trip to Nashville, where Red Stovall (Eastwood) expects an audition at the Grand Ole Opry. Stopping at various whorehouses, poker dens, and juke joints along the way, Whit comes to respect the man he first witnesses passed out drunk at the wheel of his car. Though the film is obviously coated with a veneer of nostalgic sentimentality, Eastwood never lets Honkytonk Man veer into maudlin territory. In fact, the film's construction is so smooth, the tragic finale manages to be foreshadowed enough to not seem gratuitous. Eastwood followed the box-office non-event of Honkytonk Man the very next year with yet another installment in the Dirty Harry series: Sudden Impact. In light of the bitter truths of Honkytonk, the financial success of Sudden Impact seems less like a case of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, but rather Freddy or Jason rising from the grave one more time.

 

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Jeremy Arnold

 

Since 1971's Play Misty For Me, Clint Eastwood has directed 24 feature films and established himself as one of the great current Hollywood filmmakers. A handful of those 24 films are bona fide masterpieces (such as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, and The Bridges of Madison County) and some are merely ordinary, but the vast majority are at least interesting, solid, and very well-crafted.

Honkytonk Man (1982) was Eastwood's ninth picture as director and the second he also produced - an important item to note when you consider that he has had complete creative control over most of his films ever since. While not one of his greatest films, Honkytonk Man is nonetheless underrated. It features the perfect compositions and clean editing we've come to expect from Eastwood's movies, fine acting all around, gentle but satisfying humor, and some emotional dramatic moments. What it lacks is a truly strong story. Still, it's very watchable if you get in the right mood for a leisurely road movie and character study.

Set in the Depression, Clint plays Red Stovall, a country singer who is determined to audition at the Grand Ole Opry before he dies of tuberculosis. Accompanied by his adolescent nephew Whit (played by Clint's son Kyle Eastwood, who does just fine) and Whit's Grandpa (the great veteran character actor John McIntire), Red departs Oklahoma for Nashville. Along the way, Whit does most of the driving, tries his best to "look out for" Uncle Red, and comes of age as Red passes on some of his unique wisdom and ways of doing things - much of it funny (a chicken theft; a priceless visit to a whorehouse), some of it more sober (Whit must learn to deal with death). The story is certainly episodic, but the episodes are often so enjoyable that it doesn't matter too much. Red eventually makes it to Nashville, and his singing sequences there are touching and well-played, despite the fact that Eastwood's singing talent doesn't exactly measure up to his directing or acting abilities.

Still, Eastwood's well-known love of music, especially jazz and blues, is surely a reason he was drawn to this script. He even included cameos by several well-known musical artists. Famed country singer Marty Robbins was the most prominent - he appears in the recording sequence, playing and singing with Eastwood on the song "Honkytonk Man." Robbins died before the film was released, but his recording of "Honkytonk Man" reached the Billboard Country Top 10 posthumously.

Recently issued as part of Warner Home Video's Clint Eastwood Collection, this disc has few frills - just a trailer and a printed list of highlights of Eastwood's career - but the movie itself is a perfectly fine transfer.

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [5/5]

 

DVD Talk (Shannon Nutt) dvd review [2/5]

 

Variety.com [Variety Staff]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

PALE RIDER                                                            B                     84

USA  (115 mi)  1985  ‘Scope

 

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

 

—Revelations 6:8

 

While this is another gorgeous looking ‘Scope film, shot in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho by Bruce Surtees, also shooting THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), the script by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack comes up short, as the storyline is more overtly obvious and so much feels embellished from other sources, where another “Man with No Name” rides into town called Preacher (Eastwood), a hard nosed guy fast with his fists who knows how to take care of himself, impressing the locals who are ridiculed and humiliated every time they step into town by local thugs who work for Coy LaHood, Richard Dysart, the man who owns the mining company and the rights to all the land and mineral rights except for a small patch of claims tended to by a bunch of poor mining settlers whose ownership sticks in LaHood’s craw, as he’s a greedy capitalist who wants to have it all with his ecologically disastrous hydraulic mining operation and has no misgivings about wiping out the opposition through threat and intimidation.  While not the great Western of the 80’s that many have suggested, there’s plenty of references here to Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), especially the opening scene which highlights a pack of riders on horseback that eventually target this small mining community and shoot it up, tear it apart, and leave it a vandalized wreck needing to be rebuilt, an incident designed to get them to hasten their departure.  With the help of Eastwood, however, someone who can stand up to the bullying tactics and actually fight back, it gives them hope that if they all band together, in unity they can prevail. 

 

The problem with films like this is that their “savior” is revered, adulated, loved, and desired as a mythological character who defies human limitations, as his outsider status allows him to be a super hero while trying to pretend he’s just a man.  But compared to him, all the other men in this rag-tag group of squatters don’t stand up.  So the women, young and old, idealize him as the perfect man who can save their community, who in every respect is an answer to their prayers.  This is given even more reverential status as young Megan, Sydney Penny, is reading the passage of Revelations from the Bible to her mother (Carrie Snodgrass) that describes the arrival of a man on a pale horse just as Eastwood rides in on his white horse.  Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarty) is excellent as a decent guy who’s stepped in to help raise Megan with her mother after they were abandoned.  It’s his neck that gets rescued from a ritual beating at the hand of LaHood’s men by a total stranger who is soon seen as a man of the cloth.  Barrett offers him food and a place to stay out of gratitude, which leads the Preacher into this mix of civil unrest, as people have had enough of repeatedly having their lives destroyed.  The Preacher pitches in and does a hard day’s work, earning the respect of the other men.  But when LaHood sends a goon (Richard Kiel) to make things right after several of his men came back inexplicably injured, the Preacher may as well have performed a miracle, as no one had ever stood up to the LaHood’s before, much less successfully.  His presence gives the group a newfound confidence which quickly dissipates when the preacher mysteriously disappears, only to return again in a most auspicious manner. 

 

LaHood sends for Sheriff Stockburn (John Russell), guns for hire, as he always travels with his six armed deputies, the kind of muscle people with money can afford in order to get what they want.  There’s a mysterious connection here, as both have heard of one another, but Stockburn believes Eastwood’s character is dead, likely due to the 6 bullet wounds we earlier saw on his back.  This bridge is never connected, as it remains a mystery, which is actually part of the appeal of this film, as it does play out as myth instead of reality.  Eastwood is excellent in a role where he barely has to utter any words, as his actions are all that matters in a film like this, where the action sequences are concise, furiously violent, and quickly done with, very much like a samurai confrontation.  Only the final scene has any degree of elongated pace, where Eastwood’s presence is largely unseen, a shadowy figure where all we see is a peek of his face, a glimpse of his hand, as otherwise it’s a series of reaction shots, all victims from his largely successful stealth campaign, concluding in the most traditional of western stylizations.  The film feels like a less sentimentalized version of SHANE (1953), using a similar ending with a character shouting out their names which also resembles the eloquent final sequence in DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990).  There is a nice sedate pace to the movie and there always seems to be a fresh layer of snow on the mountains and streets, but it disappointingly never delves deep enough into any single character, or provides motives beyond the typical levels of money, power, and greed, suggesting too much power accumulated in a single man’s hands corrupts his vision, moral judgment, and sense of individual worth, leaving him, for all practical purposes, blind and rooted in Machiavellian fascism.  The problem is that in order to bring him down, the suggested solution, all wrapped up in Western lore, is that only the strongest and most grotesque use of violence prevailsno different really than the mentality on display from the DIRTY HARRY (1971 – 1976) saga.   

 

Time Out review

 

One of the oldest Western themes: an enigmatic knight errant rides into town, sides with the poor but decent folk against the robber barons, then rides back to the horizon leaving the West won for the forces of good. This is shot in classical style, with much less of the baroque, mystical flourish which characterised High Plains Drifter. But there are sufficient question-marks inserted to lift it out of the routine: Eastwood's preacher man seems to carry the stigmata of a ghost; and he arrives as the answer to a maiden's prayer. Furthermore, his care for the landscape puts him in the Anthony Mann class. It's good to be back in the saddle again.

User reviews  from imdb (Page 2)  Author: MisterWhiplash from United States

Say what you will about the man or his methods of storytelling, Clint Eastwood is a master at his own particular kind of style. It's so subtle that it's called easily as conventional, but there's something there, something very dark in his style that has come out in many of the films he's directed (and sometimes starred in). In fact, in one way or another to greater or lessor digress all of his directed/acted westerns (High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven) run a streak of the bleak in them, and only once in a while become resolved in light of a happy ending or something decent. They're still (usually) traditional stories, only stripped away of all of the BS that John Wayne had to carry with him like an insecure badge of masculine honor.

Pale Rider is one of the 'happier' ones, by proxy that a) Eastwood, in a rare outing, plays something that is actually more-so the hero than an anti-hero, only anti in that he doesn't quite play by the law (then again, neither do the law in the film- the six or seven "deputies"), and b) there is something of an actual happy ending, different from Fistful of Dollars only inasmuch that, again, the Preacher is a true good-guy Man-with-no-name. This doesn't necessarily make Eastwood's character any less of a bad-ass than usual, or how he plays him by proxy, which makes it even more interesting. There's moments of insatiable one-liner-type wit, or just a couple of laugh-out-loud bits of real "grit" that we come to love from Eastwood in these kinds of roles. What makes it work as something nearing the wholesome (if not entirely PG-rated) is the conscience of the Preacher- who, actually, hints at not being a preacher at all in a wonderful scene with Sarah Wheeler- and the spirit of the small-townies vs. the big money-barons like Coy LaHood.

The story, perhaps, isn't quite original. Even without having seen Shane (or, for that matter as a slightly opposite but relevant comparison, the Seven Samurai), I can tell there are used parts here, not least of which the last scene with the girl crying out for the Preaher on horseback. And there are some scenes that just ring as corny with the dialog or not all there performance-wise - sadly by this I mean the two principle female characters played by Carrie Songress and Sydney Penny, the latter having usually excruciatingly delivered lines like her miracle-plea. Maybe some will dig that part of the sub-plot, and while I didn't it did not detract from the overall entertainment value of Pale Rider.

It's mostly a lean, effective and fun/dark/absorbing thriller with killer climax and meaty male stock characters (i.e. Richard Kiel's mute Club, a serious parody of the parody Mongo from Blazing Saddles) that reveals the psychology behind the director while going for what works, simply, for the mainstream crowd. 8.5/10

User reviews  from imdb (Page 2)  Author: James Hitchcock from Tunbridge Wells, England

"Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death"

"Pale Rider" is sometimes cited as the greatest Western of the eighties, although it had so little competition that that accolade does not seem much more than the cinematic equivalent of being the proverbial big fish in a small pond. (What competition it did have came principally from "Heaven's Gate", "Silverado" and "Young Guns"). The plot is that familiar one- familiar from films like "Shane" and Clint Eastwood's own "High Plains Drifter"- about the mysterious stranger in town who helps the locals fight off a gang of bandits. (Eastwood was a brave man to make a film on this theme in the eighties, as this was the plot satirised by Mel Brooks in "Blazing Saddles", his brilliant spoof Western from 1975. Club, the character played by Richard Kiel, even has something in common with Brooks' Mongo).

The film is set in a small gold-mining village (references to Sacramento suggest that it is in California) in the late nineteenth century. Coy LaHood, the wealthy boss of a powerful mining company, is desperate to drive the prospectors (whom he sneeringly calls "tin-pans") off their claims, and has hired a gang of ruffians to achieve this end. The tin-pans are on the verge of giving up; only one man, Hull Barrett, wants to stand firm. When Barrett travels into the nearest town to buy supplies he is cornered by the ruffians who threaten him with a vicious beating, but he is saved by a mysterious stranger, who later reveals himself to be a preacher. (We never find out his name; he is simply referred to as the Preacher throughout. The character played by Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" remained similarly anonymous). Despite his clerical calling, he clearly knows how to fight with both a gun and a club, and his arrival gives the tin-pans hope to make a stand against LaHood and his bullies. Realising that his tactics are not succeeding, LaHood calls in the corrupt Marshal Stockburn and his team of six deputies, who have a reputation as lethal gunslingers.

This may be a familiar story, but Eastwood is able to inject some fresh elements into it. Firstly, in line with eighties thinking about the environment, there is an ecological viewpoint lacking in most earlier Westerns; the tin-pans' method of prospecting for gold is far less environmentally damaging than the methods used by LaHood's men, which involve blasting the rocks with high-pressure jets of water. (The film also has an anti-capitalist slant, favouring the little man against the big corporation). Secondly, there is a sub-plot involving Sarah, Barrett's widowed fiancée, and Megan her teenage daughter from her earlier marriage, both of whom fall in love with the Preacher. Although in both cases their love is unrequited, this gives the film an element of sexual tension not normally found in films of this type.

Thirdly, there is a strong religious or mystical current running through the picture, and not merely because the main character is a clergyman. The film's title has a literal meaning, in that the Preacher rides a pale grey horse, but there is also a quite deliberate Biblical reference. At one point Megan reads the following words from Chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation:- "Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death". Stockburn and his deputies are together seven in number, a number which is often regarded (particularly in Revelations) as having a mystical significance. (It has also been suggested that they are an evil version of the seven gunfighters in "The Magnificent Seven").

Eastwood gives a fine performance as the Preacher, calm rational and authoritative, a performance which leaves open the possibility that there may be something supernatural about the character. When he is washing we see that his back bears the scars of a number of gunshot wounds which, I would have thought, would under normal circumstances have proved fatal. When LaHood and Stockburn are discussing him, Stockburn says that he reminds him of a man he once knew, only to correct himself a moment later. "Can't be. The man I'm thinking of is dead". The implication is that the Preacher may be a vengeful ghost returned from the dead. Certainly, his ability in the final shootout to appear and disappear at will suggests that he may have powers beyond those of a mortal man.

The film has a distinctive visual style, with strong contrasts of light and dark. The interior scenes are mostly dimly lit, the outdoor ones of some magnificent mountain scenery are shot in bright sunlight. This contrast may in itself have significance as symbolising the film's central theme of a clash of good and evil.

The film has had a mixed reception from the critics; Halliwell's Film Guide, for example, rather superciliously calls it a "violent, pretentious movie with little to be pretentious about", although others, such as Roger Ebert, have defended it. In my opinion, however, it is a good example of the western tradition, made at a time when that tradition was out of favour. It does not quite have the depth of "Unforgiven", Eastwood's masterpiece from a few years later, but by most other standards it is a very fine film. 8/10

Turner Classic Movies review  Jay S. Steinberg

 

Much like his allegorical protagonist did for the oppressed prospectors of Pale Rider (1985), director/star Clint Eastwood rode to the rescue when the Hollywood Western genre was at its lowest ebb. Once the notoriously disastrous Heaven's Gate (1980) had made its title synonymous with wretched excess, the major studios wanted nothing to do with sagebrush sagas, and few if any similar projects that could be regarded as significant emerged in theaters through the mid-'80s.

Over his career, Eastwood had known nothing but success with oaters, and he went into the production of
Pale Rider regarding the project as a safe gamble. As he declared in 1984 to Michael Henry in Clint Eastwood: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi), "It's not possible that The Outlaw Josey Wales could be the last Western to have been a commercial success. Anyway, aren't the Star Wars movies Westerns transposed into space?"

Eastwood opined to Henry that the Hollywood Western had gone stale by the '60s "probably because the great directors -- Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh, John Ford -- were no longer working a lot." With the spaghetti Western cycle that had made him a global superstar having run its course, Eastwood found it time "to analyze the classic Western. You can still talk about sweat and hard work, about the spirit, about love for the land and ecology. And I think you can say all these things in the Western, in the classic mythological form."

As developed by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, Eastwood's scenarists on The Gauntlet (1977),
Pale Rider became a compelling concoction owing obvious debts to Shane (1953) and Eastwood's star-making efforts for Sergio Leone. A small community of tin-panners laboring in Gold Rush-era California is in constant threat of being rousted from their claims by a grasping mining baron (Richard Dysart), who aspires to plumb the land for himself. (As a nod to more contemporary ecological concerns, Dysart's urgency stems from the fact that his excessive hydraulic strip-mining operations on his own property have left the earth nearly barren.)

When the most defiant of the prospectors (Michael Moriarty) is accosted on a supply run by Dysart's thugs, he is aided by lone stranger Eastwood, who enters town astride a pale steed like an apocalyptic horseman from Biblical prophecy. The grateful Moriarty offers Eastwood lodging, a proposal that meets with initial resistance from his widow housemate (Carrie Snodgress). Once Eastwood sits down to dinner revealed in a minister's collar, Snodgress' teenage daughter (Sydney Penny) comes to regard him as the answer to her prayers for deliverance. Dysart, for his part, calls in for deadly reinforcements before the irksome itinerant can instill the on-the-ropes miners with faith.

Commenting on the movie with interviewer Christopher Frayling, Eastwood later said, "
Pale Rider is kind of allegorical, more in the High Plains Drifter mode: like that, though he isn't a reincarnation or anything, but he does ride a pale horse like the four horsemen of the apocalypse...It's a classic story of the big guys against the little guys...the corporate mining which ends up in hydraulic mining, they just literally mow the mountains away, you know, the trees and everything...all that was outlawed in California some years ago, and they still do it in Montana and a few places."

Pale Rider has a splendid look, with the Sun Valley, Idaho, locations given vibrancy by Bruce Surtees, the cinematographer who served Eastwood's purposes so well in High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Moriarty, Snodgress and Dysart tackle their roles earnestly and effectively, as does a young Chris Penn as Dysart's smarmy son. The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces from previous Eastwood films, notably Doug McGrath as a miner who runs tragically afoul of Dysart's heavies and John Russell as the mercenary marshal who shares an unspoken past with the inscrutable preacher.

With a take of better than $20 million in its first ten days of release (on a $6.9 million production cost) and a slate of positive reviews, the front office at Warner Brothers had no cause to regret the green-lighting of
Pale Rider. While no major cycle of American Westerns would follow in its wake, the film stood as a vindication of the form and proof of its continuing viability.

 

Pale Rider: environmental politics, Eastwood style  Joseph K. Heumann and Robin L. Murray from Jump Cut, Winter 2005

 

Peter Reiher

 

a wasted life  Bryin Abraham, July 21, 2009

 

DVD Talk (Stuart Galbraith IV) dvd review [3/5] [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Clark Douglas) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

George Chabot's Review

 

The Stop Button (Andrew Wickliffe) review [0/4]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Variety.com [Variety Staff]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]  Gary W. Tooze

 

BIRD

USA  (161 mi)  1988

 

Time Out review

 

Eastwood's Bird is bravely the Bird of the jazz faithful, with few concessions. Most of the exaggerations and telescopings of place and time will offend only the discographical mentality. The treatment of narcotics, race, and racism is matter-of-fact, nor is the sense of period insisted upon as it was in The Cotton Club; above all, brave beyond the call of duty, the director trusts the music, tricky old bebop. Music properly dominates the biopic, explaining Chan's long-suffering love for Bird and Bird's whole outlook on the world. The way the narrative leaps back and forth in time parallels the neurotic speed of uptake in bebop itself. Whitaker looks as if he's really playing, indicates the protean nature of the genius, and grabs the part of a lifetime with both hands. Venora's Chan is a miracle. The progression from the Chan of the courtship days,, with her hip, sassy dancer's walk, to the set face and shoulders of the common-law wife, tells a touching story of betrayed dreams. At last American cinema has done black music proud. Unforgettable.

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

Any true fan knows about Clint Eastwood's love for jazz music. Many of his urban action films feature jazzy soundtracks, sometimes performed by the man himself (who plays a mean piano). Once upon a time, though, Eastwood was able to bring three films into existence with jazz as their main subject. Warner Brothers has recently released these labors-of-love on beautiful new DVDs. All three are presented with stunning, sparkling sound, and, though they all lack for interesting extras, all three come highly recommended.

Eastwood made the switch from Hollywood icon to great world director with his viciously underrated Bird (1988, Warners, $19.98). This gentle, moody bio-pic of Charlie Parker (brilliantly played by Forest Whitaker) emphasized slowness and darkness, taking time to explore the corners of Parker's life, rather than zooming over the surface. Paradoxically, Bird was a success only in France, where, in the film, Parker finds his most truly appreciative audience.

That same year, Eastwood worked as producer on the excellent documentary Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1988, Warners, $19.98). Directed by Charlotte Zwerin (Gimme Shelter), the film collects tons of recently-found vintage footage of Monk in action; playing, talking, and spending time with friends. Zwerin connected the old footage with new interviews with Monk's friends and collaborators. The portrait that emerges is one of genius, sadness, and a certain withdrawn forlorn-ness, as shown in a single, haunting shot of Monk spinning around in circles in a crowded airport.

Eastwood was indirectly involved in getting Bertrand Tavernier's 'Round Midnight (1986, Warners, $19.98) off the ground as well. Considered the equal of Bird, 'Round Midnight follows Dale Turner, played by real-life jazz legend Dexter Gordon in a brilliant Oscar-nominated performance, as he plays the clubs of Paris where his most appreciative audience is. Francois Cluzet plays a smitten fan who takes the alcohol-addled musician under his wing and convinces him to write music again. Tavernier's striking widescreen frame established the rainy, neon-and-smoke filled world of the jazz film.

Washington Post (Hal Hinson) review

 

Cool in a jazz musician is the combination of intensity and relaxation. And, poised over his saxophone, his shoulders and head rolled slightly forward, eyes closed, brow smoothed, Charlie Parker looked like a sleepy god dreaming a new music into being.

He was the essence of cool.

In "Bird," the new movie Clint Eastwood directed on the life of Charlie (Bird) Parker, the image of the great young actor Forest Whitaker standing dead still on the bandstand, with only his fingers moving over the buttons of his horn, is hauntingly definitive, yet somehow shadowy and enigmatic, like a figure drawn in smoke.

Images, not ideas or a cohesive narrative, are what we take away from "Bird." Though it's a Hollywood studio picture, the film has a calculated art-house look. Beginning with Parker's attempt to kill himself by drinking iodine after a squabble he's had with his wife Chan (Diane Venora), Eastwood and scriptwriter Joel Oliansky present us with nearly three hours worth of fragments from the revolutionary alto saxophonist's life. And by the time we reach the artist's death at the age of 34, these fragments have collected into a sizable, though inconclusive, mountain of impressions.

"Bird" isn't the great movie about jazz that some jazz writers are proclaiming it to be. Structurally, it's too scrambled, and ultimately we're too frustrated by the leaping around to feel we understand its subject or even what the filmmakers want us to know about him. But even though, thematically, the movie won't come clear, Eastwood has succeeded so thoroughly in communicating his love of his subject, and there's such vitality in the performances, that we walk out elated, juiced on the actors and the music.

Forest Whitaker's brilliance is the force that holds the scattered pieces of "Bird" together. Only rarely in movies do characters achieve this sort of palpability, and then only when presented to us by a remarkable performer. And this is a remarkable performer giving a gentle, exuberant, charismatic performance.

Whitaker's work here has an enormous weight and authority. Watching him, we feel we can gauge exactly how many late nights Parker has logged or how much he's had to drink by the slope of his shoulders or the angle of his gait.

Yet what Whitaker emphasizes in his performance is Bird's courtliness and grace. He plays him as a kind of humbled aristocrat. There's tremendous delicacy and quiet -- a sweetness -- in what Whitaker does. This comes out especially in his scenes with Venora. An ex-dancer, Chan Richardson was a white, middle-class jazz devotee who haunted Parker's gigs, and Venora plays her as prickly and defiant -- a boho princess.

The scenes these actors play together are like duets danced on slippery ice. Venora's style is sharper than Whitaker's, and her presence adds a sexual tension; and that's important because, without it, Whitaker might seem too easygoing to convey the lady-killing potency Parker was known for.

In "Bird," Eastwood shows talents that were never even hinted at in his earlier pictures. He's particularly good at capturing the crisscrossing emotional rhythms of two people -- Bird and Chan -- who aren't quite sure what to do with each other.

Some of the director's choices, though, are far from fortunate. The film -- which was shot by Jack Green -- is composed in velvety shades of black. But in places it's so murky that you have to strain to see what's going on. And this is particularly frustrating in the more intimate scenes where we want to see what's happening in the actors' faces.

Still, there's a lot to like. In a lovely grace note, Bird, while on a swing through California, rings Stravinsky's doorbell to pay homage -- and, when the composer opens the door, just stands there. Eastwood does a good job of showing how the musicians of Bird's era lived, and he's good, too, at showing the tension in Parker's life between the part of him that longed for stability and the part of him that couldn't tolerate it.

Living on the edge was more than a spur to Parker's creativity. It's possible that Eastwood sees "Bird" as an antidrug movie, but he isn't evasive about Parker's drug abuse and alcoholism. And he doesn't try to obscure how much Parker's life revolved around scoring and shooting. But Eastwood doesn't attempt to provide any pat psychological explanations for Bird's vices. We can thank the filmmakers for resisting the impulse to reduce these characters to easy types.

The only exception is the portrayal of Estevez (James Handy), the vice cop who hounds Bird mercilessly, without any sense of the man's gift, causing him to lose his cabaret license and, in effect, making it impossible for him to earn a living. The filmmakers are conscious, though, that Parker didn't need an Estevez to captain his boat onto rocky shoals; from the beginning, Bird set a shipwreck course.

With its rainy imagery, "Bird" is a romantic vision of the jazz life, but it's a dark romance, and if it weren't for this jazz lover's fond regard the film might be unrelentingly bleak -- another junkie's crackup. This affection shows itself clearly in the pains Eastwood has taken to give a faithful presentation of Bird's music by isolating Parker's solos from vintage recordings and remixing them with new tracks laid down by contemporary sidemen.

Something like the same method, though, has been used to isolate Bird from the social forces around him. But then Eastwood hasn't conceived the film in historical -- even jazz historical -- terms. And if we weren't familiar with Bird's career, we might not realize that after the war he took jazz away from the squares and reinvented it. There's something touching, in fact, in the matter-of-fact way the birth of bop has been presented here, with a blitzed and defeated Bird sitting on a bed in his undershirt telling how he learned how to extend the chord changes and play "inside the melody." For a instant, he looks his age and, for an instant, the tragedy overwhelms us.

Apollo Guide (Scott Renshaw) review [65/100]

 

Brad Laidman: Elvis Needs Boats review

 

DVD Talk (Ian Jane) dvd review [2/5]

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [4/4]

 

DVD Talk (Gil Jawetz) dvd review [2/5]

 

DVD Verdict (Victor Valdivia) dvd review [Special Edition]

 

Cinema Blend dvd review  Katey Rich

 

Urban Cinefile dvd review  Louise Keller

 

MSN Entertainment [Sean Axmaker]

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4/5]

 

Washington Post (Desson Howe) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

Siskel & Ebert  (video)

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART

USA  (110 mi)  1990

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

In this adaptation by Peter Viertel from his thinly fictionalised account of John Huston's arrogant antics immediately prior to filming The African Queen, Eastwood - directing himself as Huston/'Wilson' - proffers a supremely intelligent study of a man of monstrous selfishness and often irresistible charm, whose overwhelming passion for hunting drives him inexorably toward what even he acknowledges as an irredeemable sin: killing an elephant. Friendship, the film, and ordinary ethics are sacrificed on the altar of his ego. Wisely, however, Eastwood doesn't preach or condemn, but simply reveals the man's magnetism while admitting to the terrible consequences of his ambition. After a comparatively stodgy opening in London, the film shifts to Africa, and at once settles into a tone of semi-comic high adventure which never allows the serious themes - wanton ecological destruction, colonial racism, and the necessity of remaining true to oneself - to lapse into portentousness. Ably aided by a fine cast and Jack Green's no-nonsense photography, Eastwood constructs a marvellously pacy, suspenseful movie which is deceptively easy on both eye and ear.

 

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Paul Tatara

 

Outside of his Oscar-winning work on Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood the director has never been able to shake the curse of simplistic scripts and terminally sluggish pacing. Check out True Crime, Space Cowboys, and Blood Work, all of which he helmed in the past four years, if you need a painful refresher course. By all rights, White Hunter, Black Heart, a fictionalized account of the filming of John Huston's The African Queen, should have worked like gangbusters. Unfortunately, its recent Warner Bros. DVD release only reminds us that it hardly works at all.

At least film buffs will have some fun trying to pinpoint who's playing who, since the names have been changed to protect against lawsuits. Eastwood is John Wilson (wink-wink), a flamboyant, macho-man Hollywood filmmaker who's supposedly shooting an African Queen-like picture in the wilds of Africa. But Wilson is far more interested in shooting an elephant than he is in making a movie, and he's ready to expound on the perceived glory of the hunt at the drop of a safari hat. He literately mouths off to anyone within earshot, including his producer (George Dzundza) and his actors (Richard Vantsone and Marisa Berenson, standing in for Bogart and Hepburn, to little avail.)

A loyal young screenwriter named Peter Verill (Jeff Fahey) serves as Wilson's sidekick and main sounding board. Verill is based on Peter Viertel, the author of the book White Hunter, Black Heart, which, in turn, is based on Viertel's experiences working on The African Queen. Adding yet another dimension to his role in the picture, Viertel co-wrote the screenplay for
White Hunter, Black Heart with James Bridges and Burt Kennedy. It's too bad he didn't get to play an actor playing a version of himself in Eastwood's movie. They could have beaten Spike Jonze's Adaptation to the surreal punch.

Eastwood's ridiculously mannered performance as "Huston" is the main problem here. He's playing an unstoppable life-force, a Hemingway-esque individual who attacks every day as if it's his last. But he can't pull it off because he's made a career out of being the steel-eyed silent type who only acts out when he's pushed too far. You simply can't accept Eastwood projecting reckless abandon - or wearing a silk scarf, for that matter - and he continually struggles to duplicate the rococo quality of Huston's speaking voice. There's also a complete lack of emotional balance between Wilson's larger-than-life persona and the other characters, who seem like mere knickknacks in comparison. They're just in the way of what should have been a one-man, off-Broadway monologue.

Everything's great on the technical end. The print is pristine, with wide screen imagery that takes full, vibrant advantage of the African landscape. In fact, Jack N. Green's cinematography is the film's single most impressive feature. Lenny Niehaus's African-tinged score is also right on target, and it sounds terrific, courtesy of a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that was upgraded for this release. You can choose between four different languages (given the loss of Eastwood's baroque vocal stylings, the picture actually plays better in Portuguese) and eight different sets of subtitles.

The bonuses are kept to a bare minimum, with just a trailer and a cast listing that you can just as easily see in the end credits. Strangely, the back of the box promises "Eastwood film highlights," but they're nowhere to be found on the menu. Surely, they don't mean this movie.

 

A Free Man  Jonathan Rosenbaum from Moving Image Source, December 1, 2009

 

Slant Magazine review  Eric Henderson

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

Film Court (Lawrence Russell) review

 

Shane R. Burridge review

 

George Chabot's Review of White Hunter, Black Heart

 

Prof. Edwin Jahiel

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]

 

filmcritic.com (Christopher Null) review [4/5]

 

John's Movie Blog

 

Entertainment Weekly review [C+]  Owen Gleiberman

 

Variety review

 

Washington Post (Rita Kempley) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

UNFORGIVEN

USA (131 mi)  1992  ‘Scope

 

“It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”   William Munny (Clint Eastwood)

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

A magnificent movie that transcends its familiar tale of a reformed gunman forced by circumstance to resume his violent ways. When a cowhand cuts up a prostitute and a bounty is placed on his head, killer-turned-farmer Will Munny (Eastwood) joins his old partner (Freeman) and a bluff youngster (Woolvett) in the hunt. But in Big Whiskey, they must face the rough justice of Sheriff Daggett (Hackman)... While Eastwood's muscular direction shows he's fully aware of genre traditions, he and writer David Webb Peoples have created something fresh, profound, complex. It's not only a question of the excellent characterisations, but of situations given a new spin: the prostitutes and the spirit of Munny's dead wife introduce a feminist angle; there are insights into the thin line dividing law from justice; and the accent on ageing, fear and death establishes a dark tone perfectly complemented by Jack Green's sombre images. All of which links with the way this very violent film shows the cost of violence, painting a persuasive portrait of people increasingly given to emotions they have no control over. Refuting conventional cowboy heroics, Eastwood presents an alternative myth whereby a man, goaded by Furies to yield to a past that still haunts him, despatches himself to a living Hell. In this dark, timeless terrain, the film achieves a magnificent intensity.

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

Clint Eastwood’s defining commentary on – and deconstruction of – the gunslinger persona that made him an icon, Unforgiven remains, a decade after it nabbed 1992’s Academy Award for Best Picture, the actor/director’s crowning Western achievement. The solemn tale of retired outlaw William Munny (Eastwood) and his final murderous act against a duo of cowboys who’ve mutilated an innocent whore, the film exhibits Eastwood’s trademark directorial classicism (expert framing, sharp editing, quiet grace without a showy moment to speak of) and a soul-wracking despair born from Munny’s acknowledgement that killing is “a hell of a thing.” Unforgiven conveys the power of the Western genre’s myths (dramatized most vividly through the character of Saul Rubinek’s reporter) as well as the ugly, unromantic realities that lurk behind them, and the film’s overpowering tragedy is brought to heartbreaking life by the terrific Eastwood, Morgan Freeman (as Munny’s compassionate former sidekick Ned Logan) and Richard Harris (as ruthless bounty hunter English Bob). Yet the film belongs to Gene Hackman, who, in a superbly chilling performance, makes the corrupt, gregarious sheriff Little Bill infinitely more frightening by imbuing his arrogant villainy with a hint of rationality.

Austin Chronicle (Louis Black) review [4.5/5]

Eleven years earlier, William Munny (Eastwood) gave up the outlaw life to marry and settle down, eventually having two children. Three years ago, his wife died, and he's been struggling to make it ever since. A young punk, the Schofield Kid (Woolvett), shows up, tells him that a group of whores have offered a thousand dollar reward to kill a cowboy, who cut one of them up, and the cowboy's partner. During his outlaw days, Munny recalls, he was drunk most of the time; he's put that past behind him. But it's a thousand dollars they're offering, the farm is blowing away, the animals are sick. Though at first he says no, he eventually rides after the Kid, picking up his old partner, Ned Logan (Freeman). In the town, another bounty hunter, English Bob (Harris), is brutally beaten by Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Hackman), as a warning to assassins to stay away from the bounty. That night, in the middle of a storm, the three ride in to find the whores and set about collecting the bounty. As a movie, 130 minutes of entertainment, I really can't offer a review of Eastwood's Unforgiven. I sat enthralled, by the pace, the story, the extraordinary performances and the brilliant cinematography but thought it maybe a little slow, and rarely has a grand epic had so simple a story. But in the genre, as both a movie and a conscious addition to the ongoing celluloid Western mythology, the film is a masterpiece, a stunning and awe-inspiring statement. In 1956, in that greatest of revisionist Westerns The Searchers, John Ford offering the unsettling view that maybe the western heroes who helped transform the wilderness into civilization were basically psychopaths. But in the film, John Wayne was still a hero. Here Eastwood tells a western story deprived of any heroic resonance. The central story revolves around a washed-up murderer and company, the stupid job of murdering the cowboys, one of whom is basically innocent, and a tough sheriff. This, the film argues, is the way the West was, simple thuggish acts transformed through the eyes of creative observers. Eastwood's explicit here, having a dime store novelist (Rubinek) who first attaches himself to English Bob, then Daggett and then finally looks with longing at Munny, following whichever man seems the most powerful, believing any story. The fascination here is with how events like this became Western myths. One of the defining moments in The Searchers is a shot of Wayne's mad face. In Unforgiven we see Eastwood, beat up and bruised, sitting by a fire. He looks both evil and sad. Oddly, though his future is clearly used up, history, especially popular culture, will redeem him as a hero. Although a powerful participant in the process of mythification as an actor, as a director Eastwood just can't figure out why.

Turner Classic Movies review  Jay S. Steinberg

In the early 1990s, Clint Eastwood experienced a rare lull in his career so he elected to dust off a previously optioned Western script from years before and prepare it for what might be his last venture as both director and lead. Between its crisp narrative and willingness to subvert both the image of its star and the conventions of its genre, the resulting product not only re-energized Eastwood's marketability with a $100 million-plus domestic box-office take, it granted him validation as a serious filmmaker. The critical response to Unforgiven (1992) culminated with a string of awards, including the Oscars® for Best Picture and Best Director.

The narrative is set in the 1880s, and opens in a brothel in the dusty Wyoming cow town of Big Whiskey. One of the working girls has just had her face slashed by a cowpoke client, all for the transgression of giggling at the man's endowment. The slasher and his partner are dragged before the town's despotic sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), whose notion of sufficient punishment is to have the men make good on the whore-master's expenses in bringing his now "damaged goods" to town. The miscarriage of justice so inflames the prostitute Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) that she pools her colleagues' savings, some $1000, and offers it up as a bounty on the offenders.

The story shifts to a ramshackle Kansas homestead, where aging widower William Munny (Eastwood) is struggling to care for his two young children. While tending to his hogs he is visited by a cocky youngster (Jaimz Woolvett) with visions of himself as a mythic gunslinger with the moniker "The Schofield Kid". News of the hookers' gold has spurred him to find a partner to help him collect, and he can barely conceal his disappointment in finding this broken-down pig farmer in the place of the legendary gunfighter he came to recruit. As it turns out, Munny's late wife had steered him into a honest, pious life; with his family's fortunes fading, however, the temptation provided by the bounty is irresistible. Over the Kid's objections, Munny rouses his old accomplice Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) from his similar domestic retirement for backup.

The legend of the bounty, however, has also reached an incensed Little Bill, who rouses his deputies to disarm any stranger entering Big Whisky. The brutal lawman makes a public example of the first such gunslinger who arrives to collect the prize, a big-hat, no-cattle British dandy known as English Bob (Richard Harris). The unfolding of the fates of the Munny party as they ride into certain disaster take Unforgiven to a jarringly violent conclusion.

Screenwriter David Webb Peoples had authored his script (originally titled The Cut-Whore Killings) on spec all the way back in 1976; Francis Ford Coppola picked up the option, and held onto it through the Zoetrope Studios' collapse in the early '80s. Soon afterwards, Eastwood was handed a copy as an example of Peoples' work, and immediately sought the rights. As recounted in Richard Schickel's Clint Eastwood, the star's rapt interest appalled his story editor, Sonia Chernius. "We would have been far better off not to have accepted trash like this piece of inferior work," she stated in a memo. "I can't think of one good thing to say about it. Except maybe, get rid of it FAST."

In a 1992 interview for Cahiers du Cinema, Eastwood expounded on what separated Unforgiven from his previous Westerns. "[T]he film deals with violence and its consequences a lot more than those I've done before," the star stated. "In the past, there were a lot of people killed gratuitously in my pictures, and what I liked about this story was that people aren't killed, and acts of violence aren't perpetrated, without there being certain consequences. That's a problem I thought was important to talk about today, it takes on proportions it didn't have in the past, even if it's always been present through the ages."

There's actually quite a bit that separates Unforgiven from the rest of Clint's sagebrush oeuvre. Consider the feminist subtext spurring the plot, his willingness to play a bounty hunter whose skills had eroded and his handing of the supporting roles to actors with the gravitas of Hackman, Freeman and Harris. As a result, these elements make the film seem fresh and elegiac at the same time. (Eastwood dedicated the film to the two directors that most profoundly affected his early career and own behind-the-camera aspirations, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.) In August 1992, after the studios had rolled out their big-budget, special effects extravaganzas of that summer, Unforgiven made its way into theaters with relatively little fanfare, and audiences and critics that were hungry for more adult fare flocked to it eagerly.

The film received an aggregate eight Oscar® nominations, and ultimately also captured the prizes for Joel Cox's editing and Hackman's supporting performance. Hackman, whose characterization was at least partially inspired by former LAPD police chief Darryl Gates, gave his usual flavorful effort as the autocratic lawman with carpentry skills as suspect as his moral code. He had initially passed on the script as too violent, and ostensibly has no regrets about having reconsidered.

Kamera.co.uk review  Adrian Gargett

 

DVD Journal  Gregory P. Dorr

 

Movieline Magazine dvd review  F.X. Feeney

 

eFilmCritic.com review [5/5]  Slyder

 

Images Movie Journal  Grant Tracey

 

The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers]

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [5/5]

 

DVD Review  Guido Henkel

 

Reel.com dvd review [4/4]  Mary Kalin-Casey reviews the 2-disc Anniversary Edition

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  2-disc Anniversary Edition

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version]  2-disc Anniversary Edition

 

DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Special Edition]  2-disc Anniversary Edition

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]  2-disc Anniversary Edition

 

Urban Cinefile dvd review [10th Anniversary Edition]  Shannon J. Harvey

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review [HD DVD Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Ryan Keefer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Talk (Adam Tyner) dvd review [4/5] [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Dennis Prince) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]
 
DVD Talk (John Sinnott) dvd review [4/5] [Blu-Ray Version]
 
DVD Town (James Plath) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]
 
DVD Verdict (Nicholas Sylvain) dvd review
 
VideoVista review  James Starkey

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

George Chabot's Review of Unforgiven

 

Movie Vault [Greg C.]

 

Boxoffice Magazine review

 

AboutFilm.com (Jen Walker) review [A+]

 

Edinburgh U Film Society (Stephen Townsend) review

 

filmcritic.com (Christopher Null) review [4.5/5]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Classic Film Guide (capsule)

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Owen Gleiberman

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4.5/5]

 

Washington Post (Hal Hinson) review

 

Washington Post (Desson Howe) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) recommendation [Great Movies]

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Henrik Sylow

 

DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]  Leonard Norwitz

 

A PERFECT WORLD

USA  (138 mi)  1993  ‘Scope

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

While this lacks the class and assured blend of genre traditions and subversion that marks Eastwood's best work, it is very entertaining. In some respects, the film looks formulaic: an escaped con (Costner) flees with a child hostage (Lowther), pursued by Texas Ranger Eastwood, criminologist Dern, a trigger-happy FBI sniper and assorted redneck assistants. To an extent, all goes predictably. Costner gets to like the kid, his essential goodness underlined by contrast with the psycho sadist who is briefly his fugitive partner, while Clint's conservative but well-meaning law enforcer discovers a measure of empathy with both the pragmatic Dern and his prey. Among the familiar stuff, however, there are very fine moments. It's just a pity that Costner never really comes alive. That said, the director manages mostly to avoid the enormous maudlin pitfalls of his material, at least until the over-extended final scene. As usual with Eastwood, little is overstated - and the accent is on humour.

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [3.5/5]

 

Shot in and around Austin last summer (for all two of you who didn't already know), Eastwood's first film since the Oscar-sweeping Unforgiven is a taut, occasionally touching chase film that pits prison escapee/kidnapper Costner against Texas Ranger Eastwood in 1963 Texas. Having broken free from the Huntsville pen along with a morally bankrupt crony, Butch Haynes (Costner) kidnaps young Philip Perry (Lowther) during a botched attempt at car theft. Hot (more or less) on Butch's trail is Red Garrett (Eastwood), a hardened, instinctual Ranger who feels in part responsible for Butch's current predicament and wants to bring him in unharmed. Garrett, we are told, pulled a few strings 20 years previously in order to have a wayward Butch sent to a four-year juvenile facility instead of having him released into the custody of his abusive father, hoping the system would straighten the boy out, given time. Instead, Butch came out a career criminal, and the Ranger has carried the knowledge of that mistake on his conscience ever since. Garrett is given Governor Connally's airstream trailer to use as a mobile headquarters during the manhunt and, much to his dismay, criminologist Sally Gerber (Dern) is sent in to assist. Meanwhile, Butch and the kidnapped boy are getting along just fine, both having come from fatherless, dysfunctional families (Phillip's mother is a Jehovah's Witness and won't allow her children to go trick or treating on Halloween, a quandary that Butch resolves in a scene that is both heartfelt and hilarious -- a hard mix to achieve in the best of films). As the law closes in, the father/son bond between this unlikely pair grows exponentially, until Butch's near-murder of a rural farmhand sends their relationship into a tailspin. A Perfect World is a gorgeous, sprawling road movie, full of unique characters (more or less -- Laura Dern's criminologist seems like some sort of PC afterthought, and Eastwood's grizzled Ranger borders on cliché) and arresting cinematography that reminds us why we live here in the first place. Costner turns in a subtly nuanced performance that is by far the best work he's ever done, and T.J. Lowther's Phillip is a precocious and thoroughly engaging young character, expressive and haunting in all the right ways. It's not a perfect movie -- there's a bit more formula here than there ought to be -- but it's closer than you might think.

 

Scott Renshaw review [8/10]

 

Let's face it, Kevin Costner hasn't become one of the most popular movie stars in the world because he can act the hell out of a part. Sure, he's been charming enough in light fare like SILVERADO and BULL DURHAM, but he's done little to prove that his ideal dramatic role wasn't as the corpse in THE BIG CHILL. It therefore might not seem to mean much to say that A PERFECT WORLD features Costner's best all-around performance yet, and indeed it's nothing earth-shattering. However, it's more than solid, and coupled with an impressive turn by 7-year-old T. J. Lowther creates a haunting story that packs a real punch even through its superfluous subplot.

 

Costner stars as Butch Haynes, a recidivist criminal who escapes from a Texas prison with his cellmate on Halloween 1963. In the course of their escape, they take as a hostage young Philip Perry (Lowther), a fatherless boy raised in a strict Jehovah's Witness household. In pursuit is Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood), a veteran lawman forced to team up with young criminologist Sally Gerber (Laura Dern). Soon Butch and Philip are on their own, and begin to form an attachment, Butch acting as a surrogate father to Philip and Philip reminding Butch of his own troubled youth. As the unlikely pair head out of Texas, they head also for a showdown with Red, and with Butch's confrontation with his own tortured past.

 

Screenwriter John Lee Hancock makes one big mistake, and that's spending so much time and the tired and uninteresting subplot focusing on the law enforcement in pursuit of Butch. It seems in the early stages that he's setting up a parallel, or is interested in creating a hunter-hunted conflict a la THE FUGITIVE, but neither reall proves true. Instead we get cliche'd characters in cliche'd conflicts. There's an icy Fed to get on Red's nerves, and plenty of pithy good ol' boy wisdom dispensed. Eastwood and Dern toss off token lines of good-natured antagonism, but neither one is interesting enough to make their story at all significant. A tighter, potentially classic drama might have come from chopping their segments entirely, because the main plot is a gem.

 

The relationship between Butch Haynes and Philip Perry is one of the most unique and interesting explored in recent years. While at first glance Butch might seem to be a simple "victim of a negative environment" type, he's more complicated than that. The picture that develops of his father is far from clear, making Butch a less than reliable narrator. His attachment to Philip is based on the worst memories of his father, yet it is his father he seeks throughout. A PERFECT WORLD plays out like an extended therapy session for Butch, as he attempts through Philip to create the perfect childhood he could not have for himself. Costner captures a surprising amount of nuance in his portrayal of Butch, one minute the doting father, the next an edgy psychotic. It's a radical change of pace for Costner, and he pulls it off. Perhaps the larger credit for A PERFECT WORLD's success is T. J. Lowther. He's not asked to say much, but his expressive face becomes one of the most vital elements in the film. The relationship between Butch and Philip is the heart of A PERFECT WORLD, and it's nearly perfectly executed.

 

Director Eastwood's first outing since his Oscar for UNFORGIVEN is a similarly dark piece about a struggle for redemption, and while the whole may not be as strong as last year's Best Picture winner, some of the moments are even better. The opening sequence is instantly gripping, and a long shot of Butch and Philip walking through a field, the boy repeatedly attempting to hold the criminal's hand, is wonderful. The best sequence comes near the end, as an idyllic waltz quickly turns into a remarkably intense confrontation. Eastwood draws out the ending a bit too long, but by that point I was more than willing to stick with Butch and Philip.

 

A PERFECT WORLD is really two films. One is mediocre at best, but the other is one of the best films of the year. Together, they still add up to one of the better films of the year.

 

A note to inside joke watchers: look for a billboard for "Bull Durham Tobacco" in the sequence at Friendly's store.

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Cynthia Fuchs (c/o inforM Women's Studies) review

 

DVD Talk (Jason Bovberg) dvd review [3/5]

 

DVD Review by George  George Chabot

 

Brian W. Fairbanks Review

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Scott Weinberg]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Entertainment Weekly review [C-]  Owen Gleiberman

 

Variety.com [Todd McCarthy]

 

Washington Post (Hal Hinson) review

 

Washington Post (Desson Howe) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]
 
The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY

USA  (135 mi)  1995

 

The Bridges of Madison County  Anthony Lane from the New Yorker

 

You can't help wondering what a completely faithful adaptation of Robert James Waller's best-selling novel would have looked like: a sort of "Natural Born Lovers," presumably, full of swirling zoom shots and lunatic superimpositions. As it is, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and director Clint Eastwood have turned out something sombre and restrained—almost, in fact, good (though it's too long). Eastwood also stars, as Kincaid, the strolling photographer who shows up at an Iowa farmhouse and falls for the lonely Francesca (Meryl Streep). The two leads' sly comic rhythm is miles removed from the book's failing solemnity, though Eastwood has bravely given himself the few ridiculous lines that survived. 

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

When the daughter and son of the late Francesca Johnson (Streep) return home to Madison County, Iowa, to oversee the funeral arrangements, they're shocked to learn that their mother wished to have her ashes scattered from the Roseman Bridge, not buried beside their father. Worse, they find Francesca's diary, relating how, in '65 while they were off with dad on a visit to Illinois, she met and fell for National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Eastwood): an affair which was to affect her entire life. Immaculately performed, and assembled with wit and sensitivity, this is one of the most satisfying weepies in years. Indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone but Eastwood doing such a fine job of adapting Robert James Waller's best-seller for the screen. Typically, his clean, pared direction, coupled with Richard LaGravenese's mostly no-frills script, ensures that the film avoids sentimentality even as the two lovers rush to embrace it.

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Since 1988's Bird, Clint Eastwood has emerged as one of Hollywood's most consistently interesting filmmakers. He has an old-fashioned, workmanlike visual style all his own. He is totally honest with us, never hiding behind special effects or drippy music. In directing himself as an actor, he is in complete charge of his instrument, perhaps even as much as Orson Welles or Laurence Olivier were, in that he knows exactly how to move and act to elicit a particular response. He is a movie star rather than an actor, but he is the best at it.

 

The Bridges of Madison County book, by Robert James Waller, is famous for being utter drivel, but this bad book makes a good movie. The story has a traveling photographer, in town to snap pictures of the famous covered bridges, falling in love with a married woman whose husband is out of town. The story is told in flashback, after the woman's death, as her children go through her things. Screenwriter Richard (The Fisher King, The Ref) LaGravenese apparently aced most of the new-agey excess and Eastwood directs the hell out of it.

 

I've never much liked Meryl Streep, but then I never much liked Kevin Costner either, and Eastwood brought out Costner's finest performance ever in A Perfect World. Same here: Bridges may be Streep's finest hour. With age, she seems to have dropped most of her acting school pretensions. We sense that these two mighty stars really are two people falling in love.

 

The film is co-produced by Amblin's Kathleen Kennedy, and I believe that Steven Spielberg was originally going to direct. Imagine the kind of sappy, syrup-drenched crap that would have emerged if that scenario had occurred. Clint's movie is muddy, dusty and full of flies. It took a real man like Eastwood to really fall in love.

 

DVD Details: I haven't seen the old DVD, but I'm led to understand that this new, 2008 edition is availble in 16x9 widescreen for the first time. Eastwood is not one for commentary tracks, so this new "deluxe" disc comes with a new making-of featurette (including interviews with Streep and Eastwood), a commentary track by cinematographer Jack N. Green and editor Joel Cox, and a music video for Eastwood's lovely instrumental song "Doe Eyes." There are also optional subtitles and language tracks.

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [3.5/5]

With Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood was grandly given credit for single-handedly reviving the moribund genre of the film Western. Such hyperbole may also come his way for The Bridges of Madison County, which can be seen as breathing fresh life into the stagnant genre of women's film melodrama. But probably not, because Bridges is, after all, a woman's story, and what's our Clint doing mucking around in girl stuff? Clearly, Bridges is a movie Eastwood very much wanted to make: Not only does he co-star, he also directs and co-produces. Yet when word crept out that Eastwood was preparing Robert James Waller's runaway bestseller The Bridges of Madison County for the screen, reactions were generally incredulous and bemused. The common ground between the screen icon and the romance novel were far from obvious. But Eastwood has always been one to flex his screen persona, so it's not that unusual that he chose to play the role of the sensitive photographer and lover, Robert Kincaid. His real stroke of genius, though, was casting Meryl Streep as Francesca Johnson, the story's Italian-born Iowa housewife. Through her body language, Streep conveys just as much through what she doesn't say as through what she does. Through her gestures, her facial expressions, the way she holds her body, and her stolen glances, we learn the depths of the currents flowing through her still waters. She is a lonely woman, though she is surrounded by family; she is someone whose dreams of coming to America have not been fulfilled by the dull reality of her life in Winterset, Iowa; she has a busy life stuffed with details but has nothing that truly satisfies or excites her anymore. She's certainly no lachrymose creature bemoaning her fate, but one senses that her capacities for feeling have deadened over time. She's ready for that handsome stranger to come to her door seeking directions. In some ways, Bridges reminds me of The Rose Tattoo, the Tennessee Williams-based film starring Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster. In it, Magnani plays a fiery widow with a thick Italian accent who falls for the beefy truck driver who comes to her door. The set-up is not too unlike Italian-accented Francesca's four-day solitary holiday while her family is at the state fair, only her gentleman visitor is a lanky photographer from National Geographic. Actually, between Bridges and Don Juan DeMarco, 1995 has so far proved to be a good (if you really want to call a sum total of two “good”) year for the depiction of romance amongst the over-40 set. Bridges is punctuated by scenes of Francesca's grown children discovering the existence of her long-ago affair after their mother has died. At times, watching them deal with this new information is interesting, since it makes them question everything they thought was true about their lives. The entire movie enacts their mother's romance as they pore through her diaries. Occasionally, the movie cuts back to the present, and we see the kids wallowing in their own assimilation problems and, by the end, using their discovery to help resolve marital troubles in their own lives. It's too much and the resolutions ring phony. Another problem with this otherwise beautiful script by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The Ref, A Little Princess) is that it sometimes renders things way too literally, when the evocative images would have sufficed perfectly. (The best - or worst - example of this is the scene in the bathtub with the showerhead dripping from above. The images in that scene tell us everything we need to know, but then Francesca's voiceover tells us about these erotic feelings she's having. Too much information… but maybe that's what is necessary to be successful in the Winterset, Iowa malls.) Bridges is another example of Eastwood's remarkable economy of style as both a director and an actor. It is neither his best work nor his worst, though it is a fascinating exploration.

Turner Classic Movies review  Andrea Passafiume

 

Robert James Waller's novel The Bridges of Madison County was a genuine literary phenomenon. The simple story set in 1965 about a married Iowa farm wife who has a brief but life-changing affair with a world-traveling photographer struck a chord with readers everywhere. The book was released in April of 1992 without much fanfare, but through word of mouth it quickly gained momentum. Within a few months it topped the New York Times Bestseller list, where it remained for the next three years.

The Bridges of Madison County was such a popular book that it didn't take long for Hollywood to come calling. Steven Spielberg's company Amblin Entertainment quickly bought the movie rights. Spielberg considered directing the film himself, but became too busy working on Schindler's List (1993). Director Sydney Pollack was also attached to the project for a time with Robert Redford rumored to play the male lead, the photographer Robert Kincaid. The lead characters of Kincaid and Francesca Johnson were both middle aged and called for older actors in the roles--a rarity in movies, especially a Hollywood love story. Francesca was the most hotly pursued female role in Hollywood at the time. A-list actresses over forty such as Jessica Lange, Isabella Rossellini, Susan Sarandon and Anjelica Huston were all considered leading contenders.

Finally, it was Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies (1983) who was officially announced as the director with Clint Eastwood firmly set to star as Robert Kincaid. At 65 Eastwood was a bit older than the 52-year-old character in the book, but after a career of playing mostly tough guys and steely cowboys, Eastwood saw the role as an intriguing opportunity to show a more sensitive side on screen.

Before long, however, Eastwood and director Beresford found themselves at odds over the crucial casting of Francesca, which had not yet been finalized. Francesca was supposed to be an Italian war bride who came to Iowa as an immigrant farm wife. Beresford wanted a more exotic, possibly European actress in the role such as Lena Olin or Isabella Rossellini. Eastwood felt strongly that the part should go to an American actress and began to champion Meryl Streep for the role. Beresford and Eastwood continued to clash, and eventually it was announced that Beresford was leaving the project. Eastwood, an accomplished director himself with films like The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Unforgiven (1992) for which he won an Academy Award as Best Director, decided to take over the director's reins The first thing Eastwood did as director was pursue Meryl Streep for the role of Francesca. He had heard that she wasn't a fan of the novel, so he called her personally to ask her to read the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. Eastwood assured her that LaGravenese's screenplay had made vast improvements over the book's affected and often-criticized prose. Streep did like the script and soon happily agreed to play Francesca. Building on Beresford's valuable pre-production work, Eastwood assembled the production quickly. He traveled to Iowa and scouted locations in and around Madison County. He visited the towns of Winterset and Abel as well as the picturesque covered bridges made famous by the novel. For the main set of Francesca's home, a real farmhouse that had been abandoned for over thirty years was reconstructed.

The cast and crew of
The Bridges of Madison County soon descended on Iowa for the relatively brief forty-two day shoot. Meryl Streep said later that the set was the quietest she had ever worked on. Eastwood worked very fast, she said, never raising his voice above a whisper and rarely asking for more than one or two takes. Eastwood also found time to write the main musical "love theme" for the movie called "Doe Eyes", which was orchestrated for the film's score by Lennie Niehaus. Eastwood also gave his son Kyle some onscreen time in the scene where Robert and Francesca visit a jazz club. Kyle, a real-life jazz musician with his own quartet, can be seen playing bass on stage with the James River Band.

When
The Bridges of Madison County was released, viewers and critics alike seemed pleasantly surprised at how good and poignant it was. The consensus was that it was an exceptional case of Hollywood making a movie that actually improved upon the book. The New York Times said that Eastwood had made "a moving, elegiac love story," and the New York Daily News said, "There are moments here - that are as powerful as anything the movies have given us." The film was also a financial success, as was its popular music soundtrack featuring Eastwood's love theme and music from jazz greats Dinah Washington and Johnny Hartman. Meryl Streep was widely lauded for her stunning portrayal of Francesca, and was recognized with an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress that year.

 

not coming to a theater near you (Leo Goldsmith) review

 

DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) dvd review [4/5] [Deluxe Edition]

 

DVD Verdict (Clark Douglas) dvd review [Deluxe Edition]

 

Movie Reviews UK review [4/5]  Damian Cannon

 

Cynthia Fuchs (c/o inforM Women's Studies) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Crazy for Cinema (Lisa Skrzyniarz) review

 

Dragan Antulov review [6/10]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Chris Parry) review [5/5]

 

Epinions [glowsw]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review

 

DVD Talk (Gerry Putzer) dvd review [4/5]

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

Movie Revival [Chad Newsom]

 

Entertainment Weekly review [A]  Owen Gleiberman

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Washington Post review  Rita Kempley and Desson Howe (click on their names to the left)

 

Tucson Weekly (Zachary Woodruff) review

 

San Francisco Examiner (Barbara Shulgasser) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL

USA  (155 mi)  1997

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

When New York journalist John Kelso (Cusack) arrives in Savannah, Georgia, to cover one of the lavish Christmas parties held by wealthy antique dealer Jim Williams (Spacey), he doesn't expect to get caught up in a murder trial. But after his host shoots volatile young employee Billy Hanson (Law), Kelso finds himself following the case with a view to writing a book, and making enquiries that might help substantiate Williams' self-defence plea - an investigation which, in introducing him to such locals as the transvestite nightclub artiste Lady Chablis and voodoo queen Minerva, uncovers a whole new world beneath the colourful but in many ways conservative veneer of Savannah society. Elegantly directed and beautifully performed, Eastwood's film of John Berendt's non-fiction best-seller is a warm, witty, consistently intriguing character study. Particularly successful are the funny, touching scenes shared by Cusack and the flirtatious Chablis, typical of the movie's fascination with questions of pretence, trust and tolerance. Also engaging, however, is the quirky wit and Eastwood's readiness, whenever the occasion arises, to deflect focus away from the crime on to other details in the social tapestry, subtly nudging at divisions involving race, class, gender and sexuality.

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

Clint Eastwood has a great feel for the charm and idiosyncrasies of the Deep South. I don't know much about Savannah, I was in the bus station there for an hour once, so I don't know if it comes out smelling so much like New Orleans because it really is, or because Clint is such a jazz cat. But it's cool, and it feels right on. Kevin Spacey's southern gentleman is unflappable and tough, but has the perfect measure of softness as coating. His accent even passes, there is some variation. John Cusack's New York journalist is slightly less perfect, but he does a great job of getting across the concept that this is a highly intelligent young man hobbled by questions of confidence. I'm not sure if the film could have used more linkage between the setting and Cusack's Big Apple eccentricities or not. I mean, for all the length of the film (155 minutes) most everything is touched upon lightly, almost in passing. This works to great effect in the trial scenes, where for once the limitations of the evidence code and the reality of courtrooms aren't savaged. Yes, it could all happen like this, maybe even probably, including the jury foreman. And even better, we're only treated to a few lines of testimony from each witness, like highlights from someone who actually knows how to pick 'em. As good as Spacey and Cusack are, two of the peripheral characters are even better: Lady Chablis is incredible (type-cast or not) as the transvestite, an exquisite mixture of affectation and integrity. But (Australian?!) Jack Thompson is best of all, as the southern defense lawyer. I've met a lot of these guys, and Thompson does an incredible job of portraying it all: the intelligence and folksiness, the smeared borderline ethics, and most of all the elegance and humanity. An absolutely historic portrayal, worthy of comparison to Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [4/5]

 

Eastwood's film, adapted from John Berendt's phenomenally bestselling “nonfiction novel,” is as entertaining and outrageous a confection as its source material, half Southern gothic and half Our Town on goofdust. Cusack plays John Kelso, a stringer for Town and Country magazine who arrives in the verdant squares of Savannah, Georgia to interview socialite Jim Williams (Spacey) and document the man's annual Christmas party at the resplendent and palatial Mercer House. However, when Williams' violent live-in lover Billy (Law) is mysteriously murdered in the small hours following the party, Kelso decides to forego his 500-word puff piece in favor of undertaking a novel about the case and, by association, the people of Savannah in general (he himself refers to the town as being “like Gone With the Wind on mescaline”). As Williams suavely languishes in the pokey (of all our modern leading men, only Spacey can rot in jail with such sexy/cool savoir-faire -- a tossed-off scene in which he attempts to place an overseas phone call to Sotheby's while being harassed by a hulking, hollering inmate is howlingly funny), Kelso roams Savannah, gathering material not only for his book but also for Williams' defense attorney Sonny Seiler (Thompson). In short order he meets Williams' neighbor Joe Odom, a piano-playing, whiskey-drinking (everybody drinks in Savannah) bon vivant with a penchant for hosting his own wild nights at the home of whomever he happens to be house-sitting for at the time; Mandy Nichols (Alison Eastwood), a forthright and stunning young Southern belle who gladly assists him in puzzling out the Williams case; the voodoo priestess Minerva (Hall); and the Lady Chablis (herself), a boisterous transvestite-chanteuse who takes a shine to Kelso and serves as the fiery, outrageous soul of Eastwood's film. There are many amazing things in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, not the least of which is the fact that these are all real Savannah citizens being portrayed here -- conclusive proof, as if any were needed, that truth is indeed stranger (and more perversely humorous) than fiction. Screenwriter John Lee Hancock has done an admirable job of condensing Berendt's novel, eliminating some of the novel's lesser characters and altering the ending in favor of imbuing a more final note to the proceedings. Eastwood Sr., for his part, manages the wonderful ensemble cast remarkably well, especially for someone more inclined toward action and Western films (Bird and Bridges of Madison County excepted), but the real star here is the scene-stealing Lady Chablis, who deserves special recognition for her brash, saucy, utterly effervescent portrayal of herself. Unlike anything else out there right now, Midnight is a wholly original creation, crossed with shadows and light and the everyday madness of Savannah and its remarkable citizens.

 

Scott Renshaw review [6/10]

 

Here's a brain teaser for all you aspiring screenwriters out there: how do you adapt MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, a 350-page true-crime drama in which the crime doesn't occur until around page 170? Before you answer, I should warn you that it's a bit of a trick question. John Berendt's 1994 non-fiction novel, based on the author's experiences while living in Savannah, Georgia in the 1980s, defies simple categorization. Part travelogue, part character study, part cultural anthropology lesson and part courtroom thriller, it combined disparate elements into the hypnotic tale of a unique place. So that screenwriting assignment might be better phrased as: how do you adapt MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, a 350-page true-crime drama which isn't really a true-crime drama?

 

John Lee Hancock had more or less the right idea when he chose to let his screenplay wander and sprawl. The backbone of the narrative involves Berendt's fictional stand-in, a New York writer named John Kelso (John Cusack) who comes to Savannah on assignment for Town & Country Magazine to cover the city's most lavish Christmas party. The host of that party is Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), a wealthy antiques dealer who instantly charms Kelso with his wit, hospitality and fondness for Kelso's writing. Then Kelso finds his assignment taking an unexpected grim twist when Williams is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his assistant -- and lover -- Billy Hanson (Jude Law).

 

That covers the "plot" in a video-guide-summary sense, but it doesn't begin to do justice to what MIDNIGHT is about. Hancock's script wisely retains Berendt's willingness to let a collection of colorful characters carry the story in tangential directions, painting a messy but vivid portrait of Savannah as (in Kelso's words) "GONE WITH THE WIND on mescaline." Among Kelso's odd encounters are run-ins with a voodoo priestess named Minerva (Irma P. Hall) and a flirtatious relationship with pre-operative transsexual The Lady Chablis (played by the real Lady herself). Director Clint Eastwood chooses an ideal, languid pace for MIDNIGHT which turns it into the perfect Southern story: in no particular hurry to get anywhere, yet still intriguing in its richness of detail.

 

In Berendt's novel, that fragmented approach turns the city of Savannah itself into the story's principal character. The Williams trial functions primarily as a lightning rod for the attitudes and perceptions of the city's inhabitants, in whom eccentricity is ultimately a matter of degree. There are, however, some vacuums Hollywood abhors, and MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL tries to fill two of them with some pretty ineffective stuff. Instead of a story about a strange and mysterious place, it is transformed into the story of a confidence-impaired writer on a quest for True Love and Acceptance; instead of reveling in atmospheric unpredictability, the script introduces a romantic interest (Alison Eastwood) so token you could use her to ride the subway. Hancock works wonders with the novel's decade-long time frame, condensing events with impressive economy. He also strains to shove the story's square pegs into the gaping round hole of studio picture paradigms.

 

Hancock and Eastwood may very well have made the best adaptation of MIDNIGHT possible within a studio system. The acting is first-rate from top to bottom (including a sly and charismatic debut by The Lady Chablis as him/herself), Eastwood's technical team delivers typical excellence, and many of the book's best situations are re-created with sharp humor. There's just something vaguely unsatisfying about MIDNIGHT, and not just in comparison to its source material. This story cries out for a less conventional treatment, though it's still fairly unconventional by most standards. The makers of MIDNIGHT had their heart in the right place, but the result teases with the promise of an off-beat exploration it delivers only sporadically. Perhaps the answer to that screenwriting assignment is even trickier than the question. How do you adapt MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL? You don't.

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) review  also reviewing THE RAINMAKER

 

Slate [Sarah Kerr]  also reviewing THE SWEET HEREAFTER

 

Salon (Charles Taylor) review

 

Images (Gary Johnson) review

 

Crazy for Cinema (Lisa Skrzyniarz) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [3/5]

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

Philadelphia City Paper (Sam Adams) review

 

Ted Prigge review [2.5/4]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [4/4]

 

SPLICEDwire (Rob Blackwelder) review [4/4]  also seen here:  PopcornQ review

 

James Bowman review

 

Harvey S. Karten review

 

Montreal Film Journal (Kevin N. Laforest) review

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

DVD Verdict (Dean Roddey) dvd review

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review

 

The Providence Journal review  Jim Seavor

 

Movie ram-blings (Ram Samudrala) review

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [2/5]

 

Film Scouts (Karen Jaehne) capsule review

 

Entertainment Weekly review [C+]  Owen Gleiberman

 

The Globe and Mail review [2.5/4]  Rick Groen

 

Boston Phoenix [Peter Keough]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Edward Guthmann) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

TRUE CRIME

USA  (127 mi)  1999

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

When a colleague dies in a car crash, Steve Everett (Eastwood) of the Oakland Tribune inherits a human interest story on the upcoming final few hours of Frank Beechum (Washington), a convicted killer on Death Row. Trouble is, Steve's an investigative reporter by trade, tradition and temperament and, when he begins researching the case, starts to suspect the remorseless Beechum may be innocent. Moreover, his life is such a mess that he hardly has time to meet Beechum for a last exclusive interview, let alone to search for clues and win a stay of execution. Though the closing quarter of an hour is inevitably flawed by the kind of contrivance parodied in The Player and repeated in numerous race-against-time stories, for the most part this is another typically intelligent Eastwood film, a thriller that's unusually and movingly perceptive about human emotions. Though a couple of plot developments are clumsily scripted, as a character study it's performed, written and directed with wit, sensitivity and insight, ranging from the engagingly non-PC comic exchanges between Everett and his boss (Woods) to the affecting scenes between Beechum and his family.

 

Austin Chronicle (Russell Smith) review [3.5/5]

 

Like so many of the flawed gems in the Clint Eastwood oeuvre, True Crime manages to underscore both the virtues that have earned him recognition as a major director and the limitations that consign him, for the most part, to a position just a cut or two below the first rank. As one of the last of the old-school auteurs, Eastwood has a clear, consistent idea of what he wants to say with his films, so there's not much danger of mistaking his work for anyone else's. True Crime, which strikes me as his best work since 1992's Unforgiven, contains many of Eastwood's trademarks, including the definitive one: a morally ambiguous, emotionally scarred protagonist getting one last shot at redemption after a spectacular fall from grace. In this case, the rehabbing hero is Steve Everett, a one-time star investigative reporter trying to revive a career he's trashed with booze, satyriasis, and inordinate faith in his gut instincts. When one of Steve's colleagues dies in a car accident, his editor (Leary) assigns him to finish the story the recently deceased was working on: an interview with a San Quentin inmate (Washington) who's about to be executed for murdering a pregnant grocery cashier. Almost immediately, though, Everett starts smelling rats in the wall of evidence, and his original story angle (born-again thug finds peace and salvation through Jesus) becomes a crusade to free a man he believes to be innocent. From this point, the familiar race-against-the-executioner's-clock plot is set in motion, with all the usual accouterments of skeptical bosses, uncooperative lawmen, and the inevitable key witness who has mysteriously dropped out of sight. Eastwood, seldom one for narrative innovation or high-style shotmaking, shows little interest in subverting our expectations. Instead, he places absolute trust in his genius for moving us with sharp, forceful, linear storytelling and his ability to coax memorable, full-bodied performances from his idiosyncratic supporting cast. Woods' turn as an executive editor with a wary reverence for Steve's mercurial talent includes some of his best work ever. Leary is almost as good playing against type as a cuckolded yuppie city editor. True Crime suffers, like many of Eastwood's films, from the director's obsession with symmetry -- an abhorrence of loose ends and unresolved conflicts that give the conclusion a somewhat mechanistic feel. One also wishes, on behalf of millions of female viewers who could probably do without any further exposure to 68-year-old Clint's Inca-mummy physique, that hunk emeritus Eastwood would officially close the book on the shirtless-scene phase of his career. But even conceding the weaknesses that often seem to flow from the very same instincts that lend his work its clarity and power, True Crime still seems likely to hold up as one of the year's better crime dramas. When Eastwood is at the top of his form -- as he is for much of this film -- there's no more spellbinding storyteller in American cinema.

 

Scott Renshaw review [5/10]

 

In Robert Altman's film industry satire THE PLAYER, an earnest young screenwriter pitches a death penalty "issue" drama called HABEAS CORPUS, which he insists should have "no stars" and a downbeat ending, because "that's reality." The studio buys the story and turns it into an action thriller in which Bruce Willis races in at the last moment to save Julia Roberts from the gas chamber, quipping "Traffic was a bitch" as he carries her to safety. Capital punishment had been reduced to a plot device for a by-the-numbers crowd-pleaser. In Hollywood, _that's_ reality.

 

On the surface, TRUE CRIME appears to be something a bit more highbrow, but it's still a frustrating gloss over a sensitive subject. Clint Eastwood directs himself as Steve Everett, an Oakland newspaper reporter with a shambles of a life -- he's an alcoholic only two months on the wagon, a married inveterate philanderer, and a gung ho investigative journalist with a history of gung ho-ing too far. When his editor (Denis Leary) hands him a puff-piece human interest assingment on convicted murderer Frank Beachum's (Isaiah Washington) last day before his execution, Everett can't help poking around in the facts. Those facts suggest to him that a key witness couldn't have seen what he claimed to see, and that Beachum may be an innocent man. With the execution set for midnight, Everett has only twelve hours to save Beachum's life.

 

And, we assume, to save his own personal and professional soul in the process. TRUE CRIME is naturally more Everett's story than anyone else's, which might lead you to expect that he's the character who will learn, grow and change, especially since he has enough character flaws to fill a week's worth of Jerry Springer episodes. Instead, Eastwood doesn't even pretend that Everett's crusade is about anything more than salvaging a shred of his professional dignity. He's a self-absorbed, flirtatious irresponsible cuss in his first scene, and he's a self-absorbed, flirtatious, irresponsible cuss in his last scene. The role is surprisingly flat, leading to a narrative where all that matters is the plot progression towards Beachum's midnight deadline.

 

It's in their dealing with Beachum that Eastwood and his writing team throw TRUE CRIME into the most confusion. Beachum's final hours with his wife and daughter are given a lot of screen time -- perhaps to deflect the perception that this is yet another movie about a white man finding salvation through helping anonymous non-white characters -- yet those scenes serve primarily to tangle the film's themes. If we're watching Beachum's torment simply to give Everett's story a face, it's a trivialization of that suffering. If we're watching to gain a greater understanding of the emotional anguish faced by death row inmates, in effect making TRUE CRIME a death penalty "issue" drama, then Everett's pursuit of the story is trivial. And if we're watching to build sympathy for an innocent man, than a late twist which suggests Beachum might be guilty is a manipulative cheat. The film plunges us into one side of the capital punishment debate when it serves its purpose, then tiptoes around the edges of the issue at other times to avoid the appearance of making a controversial statement.

 

Ironically, it's only the fact that TRUE CRIME is a slick Hollywood star project that makes it fairly watchable. Eastwood once again gathers wonderful technical support -- cinematographer Jack N. Green, composer Lennie Niehaus, production designer Henry Bumstead -- to create impressive atmosphere. He also draws a slick supporting performance from James Woods' as Everett's crass editor-in-chief, a role which makes you wonder whether Woods and Denis Leary accidentally swapped scripts but the result turned out perfectly. The buildup to Everett's down-to-the-wire race to find exonerating evidence will probably work on you in spite of your resistance, but ultimately it's clear that Eastwood's craftsmanship is disguising a genuinely weightless story. TRUE CRIME is true Hollywood, a disposable entertainment that toys with earnest respectability before turning into a chase thriller where the traffic is a bitch.

 
True Crime  John Wrathall from Sight and Sound, June 1999

 

Alex Fung review

 

Salon (Andrew O'Hehir) review

 

World Socialist Web Site review  David Walsh

 

Guilt Bonds - Movies - Village Voice - Village Voice  J. Hoberman from The Village Voice

 

Slate [David Edelstein]

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Images (Gary Johnson) review

 

Harvey S. Karten review

 

New York Magazine (Peter Rainer) review

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

CNN Showbiz (Paul Tatara) review

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  DAK

 

Film Freak Central review  Bill Chambers

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review  also seen here:  Philadelphia City Paper (Cindy Fuchs) review

 

Black Flix (Laurence Washington) review

 

The Providence Journal review  Michael Janusonis

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

The Nation (Stuart Klawans) review

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [2/5]

 

Xiibaro Productions (David Perry) review [3/4]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

SPLICEDwire (Rob Blackwelder) review [3/4]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [3/5]

 

Grouch at Epinions.com

 

Reel.com dvd review [Eastwood] [1.5/4]  Pam Grady

 

Reviews by John

 

Boxoffice Magazine review  Wade Major

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

The Globe and Mail review [1.5/4]  Rick Groen

 

Memphis Flyer (Hadley Hury) review

 

San Francisco Examiner (Wesley Morris) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Edward Guthmann) review

 
Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review
 
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Janet Maslin

 

SPACE COWBOYS

USA  Australia (130 mi)  2000  ‘Scope

 

Time Out review

 

The set-up is obliviously hilarious: the opening ten minutes are a monochrome rip-off/reprise of The Right Stuff, with 1950s fighter-plane test pilots hurtling to the outer limits of the atmosphere, before being leapfrogged into space by a monkey. Fast forward 40-odd years. The Cold War is over and NASA is enlisted to repair an obsolete Soviet satellite before it falls to earth. But the design is so archaic, none of today's computer nerds can figure it out. Hence a call-up for the old coots. By any sane criteria this would be considered an insult to audience intelligence, but in the context of contemporary blockbusters, you'd have to say it's all in fun. And it is fun: tongue in cheek but straightfaced enough to have you pulling for them. Messrs Garner and Sutherland don't have much to do but make the most of every scrap they get, while Clint generously cedes the lion's share of the big emotional scenes to Tommy Lee, who ropes them and rides them home. They puff around the running track, cheat on the physicals, override the automatic pilot - override pretty much everyone and everything that gets in their way, in fact - and show the new pups some old tricks. If the purpose of the exercise was to prove that the codgers can still get it up, then Mission Accomplished.

 

Philadelphia City Paper (Cindy Fuchs) review

 

Clint Eastwood may act like a cantankerous old coot, but everyone knows he's the ideal American Hero — fiercely loyal, exceedingly courageous and smart as a rocket scientist. In Space Cowboys, producer-director Eastwood plays Frank Corvin, a super-pilot and pioneering engineer whose dreams of flying to the moon were cut short 32 years back. An elegiac black and white opening sequence shows Frank and his Team Daedalus in youthful action in 1958, crashing $4 million jets, yahooing and punching each other out, because that's what real men do. The military team members remain competitive and contentious when they grow up to be Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner, but their true adversaries are the know-nothing and untrustworthy civilians, represented here by James Cromwell in his L.A. Confidential mode. The boys are called back into action when a Russian communications satellite goes wrong, because it's using a guidance system that Frank designed way back in the Skylab days. The Cold War politics, personal betrayals, and acts of heroism that make up the actual mission are predictable, and the film thankfully spends relatively little time on all that. It focuses instead on recuperating old male bodies (and, to an extent, intellects) as venerable cultural objects and still-vigorous entities, certainly a worthy goal in a youth-obsessed era. But Space Cowboys reverts to Eastwood's familiar formula: establishing the obvious problems with the "old way" — egocentric, violent, and obsolete masculinity — and then celebrating it absolutely.

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

Speaking of body horror, there's no Hollywood icon—not even John Wayne—who has ever had more fun with the specter of encroaching decrepitude than that still lean and spry septuagenarian, Clint Eastwood. In Space Cowboys, which Eastwood both produced and directed, the veteran star plays long-retired test pilot Frank Corvin, who contrives to blast himself into space—along with his former team, Tank (James Garner, 72), Jerry (Donald Sutherland, 66), and Hawk (Tommy Lee Jones, a mere child of 54). The movie may not pack anything near the emotional punch of Unforgiven, but it's an entertainingly raffish action-comedy nonetheless.

A cockpit-shaking, wing-shearing, black-and-white prologue, set in 1958, establishes the team's cowboy derring-do as well as the ongoing rivalry between feisty Frank and hellcat Hawk. Indeed, Frank was supposed to be the first American in space until, he thinks, he was sandbagged by the irresponsible Hawk and replaced by a monkey. Dissolve to present-day America, where a crisis has arisen in NASAland because no one any longer understands the obsolete technology Frank used to power an old satellite that, for reasons not yet disclosed, requires urgent attention. Called upon to do his patriotic chore, Frank declines to teach the whippersnappers how to fix the thing, exploiting the situation to reunite his old buddies. Or, as one NASA flack puts it, "We've got three weeks to put four old farts in space."

Something like Grumpy Old Men Go to the Moon, the scenario is amusing in a crusty sort of way. The movie has no shortage of recurring gags—including one in which the teammates regularly discover that old pals have passed away. The mode is relaxed and folksy, with occasional heartwarming bits of business—although the grinning Marcia Gay Harden, who plays a NASA mission director, seems a bit too thrilled (or is it pained?) with her part in the project. Each actor gets more than ample time to rehearse his identifying quirk and the leisurely regimen includes trading riffs with Jay Leno on TV. Eastwood is in no particular hurry. It's nearly 90 minutes before the guys board the Metamucil Express and blast out into the cosmos to lasso the malevolent fossil of Cold War hardware that's been left floating in space like a Russki time bomb.

The obvious subtext here is that Clint knows not only how to fix an obsolete satellite but how to make an old-fashioned movie. I was particularly impressed by the effectively frugal use of Industrial Light & Magic effects—despite the somewhat abrupt (and anticlimactic) landing. Eastwood signs off with a blast of generational insouciance, but if he had held off on the Sinatra until the end credits, the final shot would have had a bit more poetic pow.

Scott Renshaw review [6/10]

SPACE COWBOYS will be greeted with enthusiasm in a certain demographic group simply because it dares to suggest that Americans over the age of 60 exist. That's a fairly revolutionary notion in pop culture, most of which is targeted at an audience that still gets graded in "nap-time" and "scissors." It's also a rare opportunity for veteran actors to get work in major roles, so you can't blame anyone involved for being enthusiastic about the project, especially given its themes. It's fun to watch a film like SPACE COWBOYS -- and probably even more fun for those viewers in the stars' peer group -- because the film itself could be an example of what its protagonists are trying to demonstrate: Sometimes, wisdom and experience trump washboard abs.

Clint Eastwood has been around the block a few times in Hollywood, so you'd think that his experience would teach him the difference between a good idea and a good script. Unfortunately, as he has done in most of his recent films, he settles for the former. The story opens in 1958, where the four members of the U.S. Air Force's Team Daedalus are preparing to be the first men in space. NASA and a chimp usurp their place, however, robbing them of their chance for space travel. But 42 years later, NASA comes calling on Frank Corvin (Eastwood) when a Russian satellite with a guidance system he designed is about to plummet to earth. The mission requires in-orbit attention, and Frank takes advantage of his bargaining position by insisting that his original team be allowed to join him for the flight. And so Team Daedalus is re-united: master pilot "Hawk" Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), engineer Jerry O'Neil (Donald Sutherland) and navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner).

There's more than a little bit of GRUMPY OLD ASTRONAUTS to SPACE COWBOYS, with screenwriters Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner taking advantage of time-worn senior citizen incongruities. Hawk and Frank are still feisty enough to get into fistfights (chortle); Jerry is still a skirt-chaser, even with his telescope-lens glasses (hoot); a female doctor walks in to examine our drooping, totally nude heroes (big-time guffaw). It's cheap humor, but it's still amusing because the performers seem dignified even when they're doing silly things, and because everyone seems to be having so much fun doing it. They also get a chance to turn the tables and mock the cocky younger astronauts (Loren Dean and Courtney B. Vance) on their mission, a development always good for a round of applause. In any other outer space adventure, the hour-plus wait for the astronauts to get off the ground would be excruciating. Eastwood makes the Daedalus team's detailed training regimen a chance to let his gifted NASA-meets-AARP stars flaunt their ease in front of the camera.

Then the astronauts finally do get off the ground, and SPACE COWBOYS crashes to earth. It's bad enough that once the Daedalus mission is underway, the good humor and cameraderie of the training center sequences vanishes, leaving nothing but crisis resolution-based plotting. Worse still is the mission itself, a ridiculous "surprise" that would have been evident even if Eastwood hadn't filmed certain characters with ominous slow-zoom close-ups to signal their soon-to-be-revealed villainy. Eastwood doesn't even seem interested in the entire third act, racing through the events at such a frantic pace (particularly for the usually meandering director) that you may wonder if he was running out of film. More likely, he understands that once the entertaining interplay between the actors gives way to shaky-cam explosions, there's not much reason to wait before sprinting toward the credits.

SPACE COWBOYS builds up enough good will through its first 80 minutes to carry it over the massive hump of its lame conclusion. Eastwood is still one of the most uniquely evocative visual film-makers around -- a director generally willing to linger where other directors would cut -- which generally makes his films worth experiencing. His style also makes him a uniquely appropriate choice for a film about characters that have reached the point in life where they'd rather amble than run. SPACE COWBOYS ambles right along with Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner, right up to the point where they amble into the conclusion of a generic summer action film. This kind of veteran acting talent deserves better. Wisdom and experience should tell someone like Clint Eastwood that there's plenty of kids' stuff out there without trying to make him and his co-stars part of it.

BFI | Sight & Sound | Space Cowboys (2000)  Edward Buscombe from Sight and Sound, October 2000
 

Andromeda Heights  Christopher Huber from Senses of Cinema, December 2000

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Tom Block

 

Slate [David Edelstein]

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Film Freak Central review  Bill Chambers

 

Reel.com review [3/4]  Tor Thorsen

 

filmcritic.com (Norm Schrager) review [2.5/5]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [3/5]

 

Nitrate Online (Gregory Avery) review

 

PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs

 

Salon (Andrew O'Hehir) review

 

Jerry Saravia review

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Talk (Daniel Hirshleifer) dvd review [3/5] [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review [HD DVD Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Ryan Keefer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Talk (John Sinnott) dvd review [3/5] [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Dennis Prince) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [4/5]

 

Movie Reviews UK review [3/5]  Michael S. Goldberger

 

James Bowman review

 

Flipside Movie Emporium (Rob Vaux) review [C]

 

Plume Noire review  Fred Thom

 

Xiibaro Productions (David Perry) review [2/4]

 

World Socialist Web Site review  David Walsh

 

New York Magazine (Peter Rainer) review

 

Crazy for Cinema (Lisa Skrzyniarz) review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [3/5]

 

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3/5]  Richard Scheib

 

another review of Space Cowboys by Paul Varner  Pop Matters

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

Movieline Magazine review  Michael Atkinson

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

Epinions [George Chabot]

 

Movie-Vault.com (Matthew Coats) review

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B-]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [3/5]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  Sean Axmaker 

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Bob Graham) review

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review

 

MYSTIC RIVER                                           B                     83

USA  (137 mi)  2003

 

Ultra grim, to the point of excess, with a hint of Oliver Stone at the end, as if to suggest the film we just saw was on the grand scale of Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK, as if somehow, the history of America is built on dead bodies being buried somewhere, in a place where there's no democracy and no government oversight or accountability, a world where small-minded, right-wing fanatics rule, where their word is the last on any given subject, and all the rest is window dressing.  Do you buy that?  I didn't.  Even the acting was excessive, particularly Penn and his cohorts, not that it wasn't good, it just didn't fit the low-key, cold, austere style of this film, think Gene Hackman in UNFORGIVEN, where evil is not just evil, it has to be portrayed as wretchedly excessive, which typically, by the way, personifies the American film concept of violence.  However those two cops were superb, Kevin Bacon in particular and Laurence Fishburne, also the pained, horribly conflicted wife, Marcia Gay Hardin.  When I saw that Clint Eastwood wrote the musical score which was soaring while the credits played at the end, this only confirmed my suspicions. 

 

I've never taken a hankering to Eastwood’s films, Bridges of Madison County excepted, as I always believe they break down somewhere.  Here, the style of the film was terrific, obviously well-made, but it doesn't hold up as a whole, and it gives the impression Penn gets away with murder, which personifies, in the face of America at war, just how corrupt America is, always was, and always will be, yet pretends to be our protector, the keeper of the flames of freedom, while murdering innocents abroad to protect our own selfish interests.

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

Years after one of them was abducted and abused, three former friends (Robbins, Penn and Bacon) from the predominantly working class Irish neighbourhood of South Boston find themselves caught up together in an arena of distrust, hatred and betrayal after the murder of Penn's teenage daughter. Though not, apparently, quite as rich a study of community relations as the Dennis Lehane novel on which Brian Helgeland's script is based, the film does largely succeed in its strategy of focusing on character, motivation and milieu rather than on police procedure and straightup action. It is in many ways Eastwood's tightest movie for some time, and certainly his darkest since Unforgiven; indeed, the ending offers as corrosive an assessment of the limits of American justice as anything in his career. The use of the director's own main musical theme is a little heavy-handed, and Linney's Lady Macbeth speech is a touch too explicit to convince, but the sheer classical elegance of Eastwood's direction is a delight.

 

Mystic River  Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine
 
Clint Eastwood's Mystic River is a somber evocation of a poor, close-knit section of Boston on the brink of moral collapse. Not only is the film the director's best work since his undervalued A Perfect World, it's also one of the most spiritually profound works to come out of the Hollywood studio system in quite some time. Mystic River shares more than a passing resemblance to Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams. Both take place in god-forsaken milieus and feature Sean Penn playing the vigilante cowboy when the judicial system fails its characters or doesn't do its job quick enough. But where Iñárritu's frenetic style repeatedly betrays the inherent gravitas of his story, Eastwood sorts through the rubble of his characters' lives with an assurance and patience that's reminiscent of his better works.

Eastwood's mystical tour through the film's Boston town begins in the past, when a boy is stripped of his innocence by two wolves in sheep's clothing. A "world of hurt" passes into the boy, similar to the legacy of pain that befalls ex-con gangster Jimmy Markum (Penn) when his teenage daughter is found brutally murdered in the present. Jimmy's childhood friend Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) is the homicide detective who investigates the possible involvement of their friend Dave (Tim Robbins) in the crime. Eastwood is very much concerned with the disintegration of society and the human spirit, perfectly expressed in the transition between the film's idyllic past and hopeless, gentrified present. Just as the fates of the film's three leads are forever tied by a horrifying event, there's an overwhelming feeling here that the death of one person could mean destruction for the entire town.

Many scenes in Mystic River begin or end with Eastwood's camera tilting toward the sky or looking down at its procedural. He observes the horrors of these people's lives like the somber Mystic River that haunts the film's periphery. If the film has an obvious cross to bear, there's no denying the god-like nature of Eastwood's gaze. There's a distinct tenor to Eastwood's films and Mystic River's rhythm comes alive via a series of lyrical parallelisms. As a child, Dave got into a car with two men posing as authority figures: a police officer and a priest. History tragically repeats itself when an older Dave gets into a car with Jimmy's thugs. Eastwood clearly believes that youth is holy and he uses this visual repetition to evoke Dave's eternal damnation. More hopeful: a boy's physical disability (his muteness) is compared to the emotional unavailability of Sean's wife.

The performances are phenomenal across the board: Robbins never contrives his character's arrested development; Marcia Gay Harden, as Dave's perpetually frazzled wife, brings to mind a soul lost in limbo; and Penn is sure to bring Academy voters to tears. The film has its ciphers (namely Laura Linney's Lady Macbeth) and its fair share of summarizing speeches—but even when it appears as if Eastwood has given up on his characters for a series of red herrings, the lyrical editing of the film's Shakespearean last act plays into the schematic idea that the film's characters are merely fulfilling a predetermined prophesy of hurt. If Dogville is a ravishing autopsy of American terrorism, Mystic River is a heart-wrenching act of worship: a holy observance of the way evil spreads like a pestilence (specifically referred to as vampirism in the film) from the past into the present.

 

The Boston Phoenix review  Chris Fujiwara

 
Each of the three childhood friends who grow up to become the main characters of Mystic River brings the film a particular style of revelation. When it centers on Dave (Tim Robbins), the film is filled with gaps, enigmas, and unpredictable plunges into the past (in glimpses of the cell where, as a child, he was imprisoned by two pedophiles, and of his escape through the woods). Seen from the point of view of Sean (Kevin Bacon), a Massachusetts State Police detective, the story is impersonal and flat. But Sean’s story, too, is riddled with gaps: the sudden emptinesses of the mute phone calls he gets from his estranged wife. Jimmy (Sean Penn), a small kingpin in the working-class Boston neighborhood where the film takes place, introduces a third tone, aggressive and bitter, and an obsession with visibility and control, as when he surveys two youths shopping in his corner convenience store, or later when he goes into a funeral-parlor basement to view the lifelike body of his murdered daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum). From the narrative relay it sets up among the three men, Mystic River draws two great advantages: first, the power to evoke the complexity of the relationships among the three and the sense that, as Katie’s death forces Jimmy to recognize, fate has linked them forever; second, enough freedom from their perspectives and private hells to gain a privileged view of a vast, intricate human disaster.
 
This is the key to director Clint Eastwood’s strategy throughout the film. He never seeks to torment the audience with what can’t be represented: the abuse of 11-year-old Dave by the two perverts (if this isn’t shown, it’s not just from Eastwood’s sense of decorum, but because the details of the abuse will escape representation in Dave’s memory) or the death agony of Katie (which the viewer, with Jimmy, is left to imagine). He’s more concerned with the pattern that links the characters. The intelligence of the screenplay (adapted by Brian Helgeland — closely, I’m told — from Dennis Lehane’s novel) lies in its constant dual orientation toward the past (Dave’s abuse) and the future (what Jimmy will do when he catches Katie’s killer). Every event in the narrative is linked to these two points and draws multiple resonances from them.
 
Eastwood’s brilliance lies in keeping these resonances in play throughout the film. This is partly a matter of touches that might pass for mere narrative vigor, like the helicopter shots that give both forward momentum and a sense of destiny, or the audacious (and successful) crosscutting between two scenes of climactic violence taking place in different parts of town. But it’s also a matter of Eastwood’s love of complexity, of contrast, and of scenes built on tensions among characters with competing motives. During a cafeteria-booth discussion after he identifies his daughter’s body, Jimmy tries, with difficulty, to mourn, while his wife (Laura Linney) supports him and defends him. Meanwhile, of the two police investigators, Sean must balance concern for his bereaved former friend and the desire to solve the case, while his partner (Laurence Fishburne), suspicious of Sean’s tact, gets tough. The struggles among, and inside, the four people are clear and compelling.
 
Something must be said about the richness of Mystic River, which is at once a gripping psychological study, an astute piece of ethnography, and a bleak and ironic tragedy. All these aspects of the film are served by the meticulous visual detailing, which economically expresses the combination of pride, secretiveness, and decay that is the key to the characters. Every scene takes place either at night or under a milky sky that projects a frail light through the curtains of homes. (In a sinister living-room scene between Dave and his fearful wife — played by the excellent Marcia Gay Harden — the pale midday light scarcely gets three inches past the window before it diffuses into darkness.) The sense of a tight-knit, parochial community of people stubbornly clinging together under this dismal light, making and burying an unrecorded history of crimes and punishments, colors the whole story and determines the ending, one of the most ambitious and powerful in recent American film.
 
It Came from the Mystic  Carloss James Chamberlin from Senses of Cinema, December 2003

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

Village Voice (J. Hoberman) review

 

Slate (David Edelstein) review

 

CultureCartel.com (Keith Uhlich) review [1/5]

 

Reverse Shot review  #3 Film of the Year, by Nick Pinkerton, January/February 2004

 

Reverse Shot review  The Quiet American, by Erik Syngle, November/December 2003

 

Cinepassion  Fernando F. Croce

 

World Socialist Web Site  David Walsh
 

Chicago Reader Movie Review  Jonathan Rosenbaum

 
Mystic River  Henry Sheehan

 

Nitrate Online (KJ Doughton) review

 

stylusmagazine.com (Jay Millikan) review

 

Images (Gary Johnson) review

 

Jerry Saravia review [4/4]

 

A Macresarf1 Epinions Review.

 

CultureCartel.com (Rachel Gordon) review [3/5]

 

Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [4/5]

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Nate Meyers) dvd review  Deluxe Edition 

 

Reverse Shot review   Any Which Way You Can:  How Europe Paints Eastwood Red,  by Stefano Ciammaroni, November/December 2003

 

Kamera.co.uk review  Thessa Mooij

 

AboutFilm.com (Carlo Cavagna) review [A-]

 

hybridmagazine.com review  Kelly Hsu

 

Flipside Movie Emporium (Rob Vaux) review [B+]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [5/5]

 

The Filmsnobs (James Owen) review

 

Film Freak Central dvd review [Widescreen Version]  Walter Chaw and Bill Chambers

 

James Bowman review

 

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [B+]

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

New York Magazine (Peter Rainer) review

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

Xiibaro Productions (David Perry) review [4/4]

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Arthur Lazere

 

The Filmsnobs (Stephen Himes) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin) review [3/5]

 

Newsweek (David Ansen) review

 

Reverse Shot review  Jeff Reichert, January/February 2004

Harvey S. Karten review [B+]

 

Talking Pictures (UK) review  Emma Dixon

 

Isthmus (Kent Williams) review

 

Vern's review

 

eFilmCritic.com review [5/5]  Slyder

 

Reel.com review [3.5/4]  Tim Knight

 

Plume Noire review  Fred Thom

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review  Special Edition

 

DVD Verdict (Dan Mancini) dvd review [Special Edition]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [5/5]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [3.5/5]

 

filmcritic.com (Sean O'Connell) review [2/5]

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

The Providence Journal (Michael Janusonis) review [4/5]

 

The Aisle Seat [Mike McGranaghan]

 

Cinemaphile.org (David Keyes) review

 

Movie-Vault.com (David Trier) review

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [3.5/5]

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) review [6/10]

 

Christian Science Monitor (David Sterritt) review [4/4]

 

Reel.com dvd review [4/4]  Jerry Renshaw

 

Mystic River (Oct 08, 2003) | Lisa Schwarzbaum   Entertainment Weekly 

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Guardian/Observer review

 

Bred in the Bone; Clint Eastwood's 'Mystic River' Rages With the Force of Man's Grief  Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post

 

Boston Globe review [3/4]  Ty Burr

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [4/5]

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold

 

San Francisco Examiner (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review  also seen here:  Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Carla Meyer) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Henrik Sylow

 

MILLION DOLLAR BABY                          A-                    94

USA  (132 mi)  2004

 

Surprisingly good—Eastwood at the top of his game, reminiscent of the calm, poetic narration from Morgan Freeman in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), and because it’s sparingly used, it's even more effective.  Freeman is superb as Eastwood’s sidekick, providing much needed comic relief as a dry, sarcastic counterbalance to the more ornery, chiseled old buzzard that Eastwood plays.  It’s a terrific script, an adaptation by Paul Haggis from “Rope Burns:  Stories From the Corner,” a Jerry Boyd book published under the pseudonym F.X. O’Toole after 40 years of rejection, a 70-year old man who had been a boxing manager and corner cut man.  While the film is immersed in the down and out boxing world, living and breathing the stink of the gym, it’s not really about boxing, instead it’s a scorchingly real redemption story, where the humorous wit really surprised me, with Eastwood and Freeman continually taking little sarcastic snipes at one another.  Add an extraordinary performance by Hilary Swank as a young, down on her luck, middle aged nobody who wants to be somebody and decides to do it in the boxing ring. 

 

Eastwood owns an old run down gym and has a knack for training boxers, but stays away from Swank, as she’s a girl, and he fears nothing good can come of it.  But she sticks around, believing the ring is the only place where she ever feels good about herself, and eventually wears down his attempts at insults and rejection.  Together they make a name for themselves, and even touch glory, but only for a moment.  It’s a darkened, extremely spare film style that utilizes the dimly lit edges of people in shadows or standing in the corners, never really in the picture at all, always just barely there.  My knock here is that the sports shots seem all too predictable, and part of the story—seeing her family, the sordid world of managers—isn't even necessary.  There's a scene of them having dinner at ringside which, even if true, is pretty ridiculous.  However, overall, the tone is sharp, tightly scripted, dimly lit, like in the shadows of what's real, exploring the edges of the frame, with very spare use of music as well, again, written by Eastwood, which is equally haunting and quiet.  Something of a weeper.

 

The Onion A.V. Club review  Scott Tobias

Actors are capable of sinking into many roles, but icons like Clint Eastwood are another story: His range is limited, but within those limits, his aura suggests a history and gravity that's more powerful than mere performance. In his beautiful boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood allows the gentle masculinity of his recent roles to seep into the entire movie, creating a haunted tone that transforms an underdog sports film into something as intimate as a whisper. With its down-and-out characters and dramatic interplay of darkness and light, the film has the texture of a somber palooka noir like Robert Wise's The Set-Up, but it's touched by a dogged optimism that's anathema to the genre. Though conventional in many respects, it feels like no other boxing film ever made, due largely to Eastwood's unmistakable presence on both sides of the camera.

Based on Rope Burns: Stories From The Corner, a short-story anthology by veteran fight manager and cutman Jerry Boyd (writing under the pen name F.X. Toole), Million Dollar Baby is suffused with loss, since even the brightest boxing careers are short-lived and doomed to disappointment at the end of the line. As a longtime trainer and current proprietor of a dilapidated gym, Eastwood knows this heartbreak better than most, because he's reminded of it every day. His gym manager, played by an assured Morgan Freeman, was a great contender, until a brutal title bout left him blind in one eye. Hesitant to train another fighter, Eastwood reluctantly takes on Hilary Swank, a trailer-park-raised waitress who overcomes her age and inexperience with raw talent and determination. Estranged from their respective families, Eastwood and Swank develop a deep surrogate bond that leads them through the gritty, low-stakes female-boxing circuit.

Million Dollar Baby sets the stage for a hard-won triumph-over-adversity tale, but it's too wise about the boxing world to fall for easy victories, or even the redeeming, spirited letdown of the original Rocky. In Eastwood's hands, the standard training montages have a hushed, meditative quality, with a specific emphasis on the scientific half of "the sweet science" that no doubt stems from Boyd's experience. Though the rambling narrative shows signs of squeezing a few short stories into one—the last 30 minutes, in particular, seem like another movie altogether—the film coheres around groups of characters that integrate more tightly as it goes along. The three leads are all superb, even the seemingly miscast Swank, who finally rediscovers the Method intensity that's been missing since Boys Don't Cry. But Million Dollar Baby belongs to Eastwood, the icon and the auteur, whose weathered face tells a story like nothing he's done since Unforgiven, and whose direction resonates with quiet, insistent soul.

The Boston Phoenix review  Chris Fujiwara

 
First, the title. A million dollars is not a lot for a baby when actors get 10 times that for being in films that no one sees. It’s a Depression-era kind of title, and it resounds with phrases like "Million Dollar Movie," the name of a program of yore on WOR-TV in New York that gave an afterlife to classics of American cinema.
 
Among American directors working today, Clint Eastwood is one of the few who create worlds as definite, abstract, and self-contained as those limned (often on hundred-thousand-dollar budgets) by such million-dollar directors as Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan. From the beginning, Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby establishes such a world — one that appears to obey verisimilitude in every respect but that exists only in the imagination. "People love violence," whispers the voiceover narrator, ex-boxer Scrap (Morgan Freeman). The film, its setting (the Hit Pit Gym), and its hero, boxing trainer Frankie (Eastwood), all exist because they’ve been summoned by this love and by its complementary force, which Scrap calls "the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you."
 
The heroine, Maggie (Hilary Swank), is a dreamer of this dream. Although she is, as the film will detail, the product of a poor rural background and a grasping family, Maggie enters Million Dollar Baby out of nowhere: she just appears in the Hit Pit, fully formed, before she asks Frankie to remake her.
 
If the strongest motives driving the story of Million Dollar Baby were its up-front ones — Maggie’s will to master boxing; Frankie’s will, which proves less strong, to uphold his principle never to train women — Eastwood would still have enough to go on for a good film. But behind Frankie’s principle stands another that’s formulated in the mantric exchange he and Maggie repeat: "What is the rule?" "To protect myself at all times." Although the script explains Frankie’s obsession with this rule by mentioning a past boxing accident, the reference is embroidery. Maggie is a heroine easy to root for, but Million Dollar Baby is Frankie’s tragedy: the story of a man who against his better judgment and inclination gets involved with another human being and ends up paying for it. (As Joseph Conrad wrote: "I only know that he who forms a tie is lost. The germ of corruption has entered into his soul.")
 
The wintry look Eastwood and cinematographer Thomas Stern create is ideal for unfolding the pain and the symmetry of this story. Darkness surrounds the characters, both as a sign of danger and as the background of non-existence from which they emerge. This is human life for Eastwood: half-lit, temporary safe zones chipped out of darkness. Most of Frankie’s own house is a lost continent, with light coming from unexpected angles; when he opens his closet to file another returned-as-undeliverable letter to his estranged daughter, light hits him from above. Henry Bumstead’s production design is eloquent. A shot of Frankie and Maggie at a dinner table overlooking an arena evokes a cheap majesty as stirring as anything in The Aviator. The diner where the pair stop on the way to visit her family is a sleek abstraction, both weatherbeaten and ageless, popping up, like Maggie and like the whole film, out of nowhere.
 
Million Dollar Baby isn’t a complete success. There are three, maybe four ways to shoot a boxing match, and despite his skill at pacing himself, Eastwood can’t avoid running through them before the script runs out of in-the-ring action. A boxing film may be forgiven its clichés, but this one is now and then too liberal with them. The character of Scrap is the most conventional aspect of the film, which (though Morgan Freeman is excellent) goes into a palpable slump in a sequence in which he’s left in charge of the gym. And triteness creeps into the ominous underlining of the formidable stature of one opponent Maggie must face.
Their match results in a late-film plot shift of the type that reviewers must keep secret and that in lesser directorial hands would have sent Million Dollar Baby into a tailspin. I’ll say only that Eastwood has never been more moving, as a director or as an actor, than he is in the last 30 minutes of this film.

 

Film Comment   Amy Taubin article and interview from Film Comment, January/February 2005

Now in his Seventies, Clint Eastwood continues to find new challenges both in front of and behind the camera, as the heartrending Million Dollar Baby demonstrates

Age has clenched Clint Eastwood's face tight as a fist, but he has never been more tender, vulnerable, and heartbroken than in Million Dollar Baby. It's not surprising that the camera still loves Eastwood's visage, finding unchanging beauty in the skull beneath the skin. His facial bones, if anything, appear more finely chiseled than in his youth. But the muscles that hold the thinned skin have contracted, pulling brow and eyes down and inward, so that the signature squint is deeper and less yielding, even to laughter. Eastwood never had one of those expressive, easy-to-read faces. He made a virtue of his guardedness, subtly adjusting a personal character trait to fit dozens of different fictional characters and stories. As both director and actor, he has applied a single style-stripped-down realism-to an enormous range of genres: westerns, cop thrillers, biopics, screwball comedies, psychodramas, even a three-handkerchief romance. At first, he tinkered with their formulas; then he turned them upside down.

Loss, regret, and the things one does and doesn't learn from experience are the themes of the late Eastwood films, among which Million Dollar Baby is one of the greatest. Unforgiven may be more magisterial, but Million Dollar Baby is the tougher work of art in the sense that it's easier to fuel a film with anger and the desire for revenge, as Unforgiven is, than with a grief that can never be assuaged. Million Dollar Baby starts out bittersweet-it could be a Thirties studio picture about a broken-down boxing trainer who gets a second chance when he takes a hungry young fighter under his wing-but it ends up akin to King Lear. And much of the emotional power of the film comes from Eastwood's performance. In the past, Eastwood the director has treated Eastwood the actor perhaps too much as a functionary. Since a large percentage of the world's population enjoys seeing him onscreen, it hasn't been such a bad strategy. But here, for the first time, he gives himself the kind of liberty that he has, so generously, given other actors: to explore the character in the moment as the camera rolls.

Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, a physical and emotional wreck of a man who has spent a lifetime in the fight game and now owns a run-down gym and occasionally manages a boxer. Frankie's body barely cooperates anymore, but what has really dragged him down is his estrangement from his daughter (Eastwood leaves it for us to imagine what terrible thing happened between them) and also that one of his fighters was badly injured in the ring. That fighter, Scrap (Morgan Freeman), is now Frankie's sole employee and his only friend. Scrap encourages Frankie to work with Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), who's trying to rise above her own family horror show and believes that a boxing career could be her way out of grinding poverty. Frankie wants no part of this venture, but Maggie's persistence, courage, and passion for the fight game prove persuasive.

"Always protect yourself" is the basic boxing lesson Frankie tries to drum into Maggie's head. But Frankie has a problem figuring out when protectiveness-of oneself and the people one is committed to-closes off the possibility of living fully. More than a film about boxing, Million Dollar Baby is about the relationship between parents and children, specifically between fathers and daughters. Maggie gives Frankie a second chance at parenting, and Maggie knows, just as we in the audience know, that Frankie is the best father any daughter could wish for. The heartbreaking thing is that Frankie, almost assuredly, will never feel that way about himself.

This is the most musical of Eastwood's films in that so much meaning and feeling is carried by shifts of tempo and tonality. The shifts that happen within the dialogue scenes are extremely delicate-the three leading actors play off one another with the subtlety and spontaneity of jazz musicians. The fight scenes, however, are explosive and brutal. Shot with two cameras, and virtually unchoreographed, they have a rawness that makes them scary to watch, especially since it's clear that Swank is doing all her own fighting. Swank is terrifically game and courageous, both in and out of the ring. Her eager, bright spirit is a great foil for Eastwood, and together, they create a complicated map of loyalty, trust, and love.

Nick's Flick Picks (Nick Davis) review [A] 

 

World Socialist Web Site review  David Walsh

 

Cinepassion  Fernando F. Croce

 

Maggie, Frankie, and Me  Jeff Shannon from New Mobility magazine, April 2005, including an:  Interview with Eastwood

 

Reverse Shot review  Hit me Like You Mean It, by Erik Hynes from Reverse Shot, Spring 2005

 

Images (Gary Johnson) review

 

Bright Lights Film Journal review  Tony Macklin, February 2005

 

Bright Lights Film Journal review  Eric Schlosser, May 2005

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

DVD Times (HD-DVD) [Michael Mackenzie]

 

Filmbrain  Like Anna Karina’s Sweater

 

Million Dollar Baby  Henry Sheehan

 

Flipside Movie Emporium (Rob Vaux) review [A-]

 

CineScene.com (Chris Knipp) review

 

Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez

 

Alternative Film Guide Review  Andre Soares

 

CultureCartel.com (John Nesbit) review [4.5/5]

 

Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [4.5/5]

 

Kamera.co.uk review  Mark Sells

 

Epinions.com [Steven Flores]

 

Movie Vault [Friday and Saturday Night Critic]

 

Slate [David Edelstein]

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

Pajiba (Dustin Rowles) review

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

stylusmagazine.com (Dan Emerson) review

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Arthur Lazere

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [4/5]

 

hybridmagazine.com review  Tiffany Couch Bartlett

 

Village Voice (Michael Atkinson) review

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

The New Yorker (David Denby) review

 

The Providence Journal (Michael Janusonis) review [5/5]

 

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [C]

 

Million Dollar Baby  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

Reel.com dvd review [3.5/4]  James Plath, 2-disc set

 

DVD Talk (Scott Lecter) dvd review [4/5] [Deluxe Edition]  3-disc set

 

3-Disc Edition, DVD Town [John J. Puccio]

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Talk (Joshua Zyber) dvd review [3/5] [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review [HD DVD Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Ryan Keefer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Talk (Todd Douglass Jr.) dvd review [4/5] [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

The Aisle Seat [Mike McGranaghan]

 

Jerry Saravia review [3/4]

 

Harvey S. Karten review [B]

 

Isthmus (Kent Williams) review

 

Beyond Hollywood review  Nix

 

filmcritic.com (Sean O'Connell) review [4.5/5]

 

Reel.com review [3.5/4]  Sarah Chauncey

 

CineScene.com (Shari L. Rosenblum) review

 

Film Freak Central dvd review [Widescreen Edition]  Walter Chaw and Bill Chambers

 

Salon (Charles Taylor) review

 

Talking Pictures (UK) review  Jamie Garwood

 

About.com Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [A]

 

Eye for Film (Scott Macdonald) review [5/5]

 

Christian Science Monitor (David Sterritt) review [4/4]

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

Ruthless Reviews review  Matt Cale

 

Rio Rancho Film Reviews *potentially offensive*

 

Martin Tsai's Blog

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Exclaim! [Travis Mackenzie Hoover]

 

Classic Film Guide (capsule)

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Guardian/Observer

 

Washington Post (Desson Thomson) review

 

Boston Globe review [4/4]  Ty Burr

 

Austin Chronicle (Steve Davis) review [4.5/5]

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]   January 7, 2005

 

Critics have no right to play spoiler :: rogerebert.com :: News ...  Roger Ebert, January 29, 2005

 

From boxing movie to political bout »   Jim Emerson, Ebert website editor, January 28, 2005

 

'Million Dollar' misrepresentations »   Jim Emerson, Ebert website editor, February 10, 2005

 

Is Oscar's best pic a masterpiece? »   Jim Emerson, Ebert website editor, March 4, 2005

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze

 

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS

USA  (132 mi)  2006

 

Chicago Reader [Jonathan Rosenbaum]

Perhaps only the clout of director Clint Eastwood and coproducer Steven Spielberg could have brought us a movie about how the most inspirational photo of World War II--four GIs raising the flag at Iwo Jima--was mendaciously exploited to sell war bonds. It's a noble undertaking, and Eastwood is stylistically bold enough to create a view of combat based mainly on images that are clearly manufactured. (As with Saving Private Ryan, the movie's principal source is The Big Red One, whose director, Samuel Fuller, actually experienced the war.) But this is underimagined and so thesis ridden that it's nearly over before it starts. (Part of the story--the experience of Native American marine Ira Hamilton Hayes--was better told 45 years earlier in The Outsider, starring Tony Curtis.) William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis adapted a book by James Bradley and Ron Powers; with Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach. R, 132 min.

The Onion A.V. Club review  Scott Tobias

Since stories of battlefield heroics are the myths that fuel the war machine, it really doesn't matter if they're precisely true—or even invented from whole cloth—as long as they contribute to the cause. The flag-raising at Iwo Jima, perhaps the most iconic snapshot of American struggle and triumph in World War II, shows that a picture can say a thousand words, but those words don't necessarily tell the story. On its face, Clint Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers seems like a potent piece of revisionist history, boldly examining what heroism really means and how it can be manufactured for the "greater good." But somewhere along the way, the film loses its moxie and becomes the very thing the flag-raisers would have detested—another bronze-cast tribute to bravery and self-sacrifice, destined to fill out a three-hour slot in a Memorial Day TV marathon.

 

Beautifully structured, save for a heavy-handed framing device (one of several traits, good and bad, it shares with Saving Private Ryan), the script cuts between the propagandistic tour of three soldiers featured in the picture and the cruel details of the battle itself. On day five of a monthlong siege aimed at taking Iwo Jima from the Japanese, a group of Marines planted the flag on top of Mount Suribachi to rouse their fellow troops. It was then taken down and replaced by another flag, which is the one that made the famous photograph. Half the flag-raisers died in combat, but the other half—in Flags, a field medic (Ryan Phillippe), a "runner" (Jesse Bradford) who never fired a shot, and a troubled warrior (Adam Beach) of Native American heritage—returned home for speeches and photo ops. They feel varying degrees of guilt about their new roles, but find some consolation in the fact that their stumping will sell the war bonds necessary to finish the campaign.

 

At its most devastatingly effective, Flags Of Our Fathers follows these three men as they're trotted in front of roaring crowds at places like Soldier Field and Times Square, knowing that this charade is keeping them from their friends on the front lines. (Whenever they're introduced as "the heroes of Iwo Jima," they all but shrink in embarrassment.) As with Saving Private Ryan, the battle sequences strike a nice balance between old-fashioned derring-do and contemporary viscera, with the barren island sometimes turning into a nightmarish lunar landscape. Yet what begins as a sophisticated meditation on the meaning of heroism gradually slumps into leaden repetition in the second half, as the point gets watered down and belabored. After such provocative beginnings, the film finally, dutifully raises its hand in salute.

 
Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

War is tragic until fed through the media -- then it becomes heroic. Flags of Our Fathers opens with an anguished soldier running through a pulverized battlefield; the camera zooms into his horrified eyes to reveal it as an old man's memory, or the lingering toll of the past on a collective consciousness, perhaps. In any case, Americans prefer history with "easy-to-understand truths and damn few words," and Clint Eastwood thusly analyzes his subject, namely the snapshot of the six U.S. flag-raisers atop Mt. Suribachi during the taking of Iwo Jiwa. Joe Rosenthal's 1944 photograph made the front page of the New York Times to become an indelible WWII image and an instant symbol of Yankee courage and perseverance; a pose requires faces, so three surviving flag-raisers, John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are promptly shipped from the battlefront to the spotlight as hero-celebrities. The iconic moment was really a flag-replacement maneuver, but war bonds must be sold, and "that's the story we're selling, boys" -- they become war-effort mascots, shaking hands at ceremony after ceremony. Eastwood shoots in ashen, naval grays, sallow uniform tones, and engulfing darkness, and cuts from a man being bayoneted to a raucous ocean of red-white-and-blue, the "Vict'ry Polka" welcoming the protagonists; shelling turns into fireworks as they are made to climb a papier-mâché replica of Mt. Suribachi to cheering crowds, tragic reality reenacted as entertainment, a most withering critique of United 93.

Crash came in between Million Dollar Baby and Flags of Our Fathers, so patronizing blabbermouth Paul Haggis's unmistakable hand in the screenwriting is clearer here -- the director can try to cut away at the blubber, but he's still left with Haggis's exclamation points (Bradley's "So much for no man left behind" as destroyers sail past a drowning grunt, "Goddamn Indians" as Hayes finds that his uniform can't dim prejudice). Steven Spielberg, who co-produced, is as dubious an influence in this project as he was in Poltergeist: Eastwood's intimate, handheld scuttling on the beachfront segues into a tracking shot following two men carrying a mangled body, then cranes up for a panoramic view of the CGI-filled slaughter. So this may not be a "pure" Eastwood work like, say, True Crime or Blood Work, yet its scrupulous scrutiny of societal notions of heroism and masculinity projected on troubled characters is closer to Ford's They Were Expendable or Wellman's The Story of G.I. Joe (to say nothing of the filmmaker's own gnarled loners) than to Saving Private Ryan -- not a last word on WWII epics but a human-sized contemplation of propaganda and fame, battlefield experience and its public packaging, moral exploitation and personal dignity. No squinting is needed here to spot the toppling of Saddam's statue or Bush's "Mission Accomplished" strut, though some critics insist there's no need for another heroism-debunking portrait, just as they miss the pared-down poetry of a veteran who continues to slash deep in his inquiry. (The film is only half an epic: Letters from Iwo Jiwa next year provides the myth's alternative perspective.) Eastwood questions the printing of the legend, but a more appropriate John Ford quote for his ambivalence might be Anna Lee's line in Fort Apache about the departing soldiers: "All I can see are the flags."

The Village Voice [Scott Foundas]

 

A single photograph, we're told early on in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, can win or lose a war. But sometimes that photo shows us only part of the story, whether it's the part we don't want to see—slaughtered villagers at My Lai, tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib—or the part we do, with heroes front and center and the carnage out of view.

In Flags, the image under scrutiny is one of the most iconic in American photojournalism: five U.S. Marines and one Navy corpsman planting Old Glory atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during the fifth day of the 35-day battle. That picture, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, helped rally American support for the war, won a Pulitzer for its photographer (Joe Rosenthal), and made overnight celebrities out of its subjects. But the soldiers didn't feel like heroes, and with good reason.

Based on the bestselling book by James Bradley, whose father, John "Doc" Bradley, was the Navy corpsman in Rosenthal's photo, Flags of Our Fathers is about the three flag raisers who survived Iwo Jima—Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), the dashing and mildly pompous Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and the proud Pima Indian Ira Hayes (Adam Beach)—and how their moment in the spotlight irrevocably altered their lives. For these men were not the first to fly the Stars and Stripes, but rather a secondary team, assembled after the smaller flag erected earlier by a different group was claimed as a souvenir by a naval officer. It was this second flag, though, that was seen around the world, its raisers plucked from duty and ferried hither and yon by wily politicians who saw the makings of an inspired PR campaign. It was not the first—or last—time that perception trumped reality in the selling of wars to the American public.

According to the press notes, in his later years John Bradley was plagued by hallucinations and night terrors, and Eastwood's movie unfolds as if it were one of them, flashing back and forth between the charcoal sands of Iwo Jima and the clinking banquet rooms where the flag raisers shill for the war bond effort before patriotic well-wishers. Executed in stark widescreen compositions all but drained of color, the battle scenes are as visceral as anything in Saving Private Ryan—no small feat given that Eastwood is 76 this year and has never before directed a film of this physical scale. The landing on Iwo Jima is a master class in controlled chaos, as bullets stream out of camouflaged pillboxes and mortar fire turns bodies into sizzling piles of flesh and bone. But the most surreal, unsettling images come later, when the three heroes are pressed into re-enacting their storied feat as a vaudeville spectacle before a cheering crowd, and when, at a celebratory dinner, they see their huddled likenesses transformed into an ice cream sculpture.

To an extent, Flags of Our Fathers is to the WWII movie what Eastwood's Unforgiven was to the western—a stripping-away of mythology until only a harsher, uncomfortable reality remains. But what Eastwood really does is call into question an entire way of reading history, by which the vast and incomprehensible are reduced to digestible symbols and meanings. In war—Eastwood offers us a timely reminder—who is just and unjust depends on where you're watching from. And to further the point, his next movie, Letters From Iwo Jima, tells the story from the perspective of the Japanese.

With Flags, Eastwood has made one of his best films—a searching, morally complex deconstruction of the Greatest Generation that is nevertheless rich in the sensitivity to human frailty that has become his signature as a filmmaker. You feel this most in the characterization of Hayes, whose postwar descent into alcoholism and near madness has been told before, in song ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes") and on-screen (1961's The Outsider), but never with such haunted intensity. Beach's agonizing portrait is made all the more poignant by the film's revelation that Hayes, like the other men who raised the second flag, did show extraordinary bravery on the battlefield, just not in the way for which he was remembered. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for men like John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes, there were thousands more that went unspoken.

BFI | Sight & Sound | Flags of Our Fathers (2006)  Ali Jaafar from Sight and Sound, January 2007

 

World Socialist Web Site review  Ramón Valle

 

Film as Art [Danél Griffin]

 

Reverse Shot (Chris Wisniewski) review

 

Pajiba (Phillip Stephens) review

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Flipside Movie Emporium (Rob Vaux) review [C]

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

The House Next Door [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

The Nation (Stuart Klawans) review  also reviewing BORAT, calling it a culture split between Charlie Chaplin (Borat) and D.W. Griffith (Flags)

 

Confessions of a Film Critic [John Maguire]

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review  (Page 2)

 

filmcritic.com (Sean O'Connell) review [3.5/5]

 

The New Yorker (David Denby) review

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review

 

Epinions.com [Steven Flores]

 

James Bowman review

 

CBC.ca Arts (Katrina Onstad) review

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review [B]

 

The Aisle Seat [Mike McGranaghan]

 

Ruthless Reviews review  Matt Cale

 

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [D+]

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

Edward Copeland on Film

 

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

DVD Talk theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]

 

DVD Talk (Randy Miller III) dvd review [3/5] [Special Edition]

 

DVD Verdict - Two-Disc Special Edition [Neal Masri]

 

DVDTown - 5-Disc Commemorative Edition [Dean Winkelspecht and John J. Puccio]

 

DVD Talk - Battle for Iwo Jima Commemorative Collector's Edition (Preston Jones)

 

DVD Verdict (Brendan Babish) dvd review [Commemorative Edition]

 

DVD MovieGuide dvd review ['Heroes of Iwo Jima' Commemorative Edition]  Colin Jacobson

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review [HD-DVD Version] [Special Edition]

 

DVD Verdict - Two-Disc Special Edition (HD DVD) [Ryan Keefer]

 

DVD Talk (Joshua Zyber) dvd review [4/5] [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) dvd review [HD DVD Version]

 

DVD Talk (Matthew Hinkley) dvd review [5/5] [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

About.com Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [B]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [2/5]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [2/5]

 

CompuServe [Harvey Karten]

 

eFilmCritic.com review [3/5]  U.J. Lessing

 

Reel.com review [3.5/4]  Tim Knight

 

House Next Door [Sean Burns and Andew Dignan]

 

Eye for Film (Jennie Kermode) review [4/5]

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4.5/5]

 

Film School Rejects (Neil Miller) review [C]

 

Slate (Dana Stevens) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [3/5]

 

stylusmagazine.com (Imran J. Syed) review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B-]  Owen Gleiberman

 

Variety review

 

Time Out London (Geoff Andrew) review

 

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

 

The Observer (Philip French) review

 

Washington Post (Stephen Hunter) review

 

Boston Globe review [2.5/4]  Ty Burr

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [2.5/5]

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [2/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 
Chicago Tribune [Michael Phillips]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 
DVDBeaver.com [Yunda Eddie Feng]

 

DVDBeaver - HD DVD [Yunda Eddie Feng]

 

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA                     B                     86

USA  (141 mi)  2006

 

Another war film with an epic sweep, the bookend of the previously released FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, each told from the opposing points of view of the same war.  On a tiny island in the Pacific, Japan considered Iwo Jima a part of its birthright, and on that soil, it would defend the mainland of Japan, as otherwise the Americans could use it as a foothold to attack Tokyo and Hiroshima.  Told exclusively from the Japanese point of view, including remaining faithful to the Japanese language, which is subtitled into English, this is admittedly an adventurous project, a remarkable effort during a time when America considers itself at war with terrorists.  And here we have a mainstream Hollywood release by one of the patriarchs of American filmmaking making a war film designing a strategy where American soldiers come under attack.  Interesting idea.  While this film has received considerable praise, most of it is merited more for the ambitious undertaking than for the film itself.
 
With the exception of the poetry of Malick’s THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and Fuller’s bitingly sarcastic THE BIG RED ONE (1980), all of these war films look and feel the same, where the director goes through an obligatory checklist of things that must occur in their films.  Beachfront assault, beachfront fortifications, moments of expectation before the assault begins, camera angle from behind the machine gun nests mowing down approaching soldiers, a picture of explosions and chaos as soldiers are demolished by the second, one side runs out of food and water, the end is near, the thought of suicide becomes paramount, orders are questioned, messages get deliberately misinterpreted, soldiers turn on their leadership, where commanders rise to the occasion by fighting valiantly to the end, usually resulting in a noble death.  Each director may accent or diminish various aspects of these same elements, but it still ends up feeling like we’re watching the same film.  Much of this has become so common that what’s actually happening onscreen as body parts are being blown to bits is of dwindling interest.  This film sags and is overlong largely because it insists on including the exact same imagery that we’ve come to expect in other films, not realizing their version is really no different, despite this singularly unique idea to present two versions of the same war from opposing points of view.  Instead of combining this into one film, we have another example of war excess.

 

In this film, they use the Ken Burns THE CIVIL WAR (1990) device of reading soldier’s letters written home, cue a melancholic piano theme to go along with poignant thoughts.  It might be more interesting if all of the letters used were actually written during wartime, as was the case in Burns’s film, instead this is a fictionalized narrative device that feels like déjà vu, as only the General’s letters were actually discovered.  Of course these letters are moving, but predictably so, even though what’s most interesting is a letter written by an American mother to her American soldier that perished in front of them.  Again, as this was the only American soldier temporarily rescued in the entire film, a stark contrast to what happens to two Japanese soldiers captured by the other side, of course this is the United Nations moment where stunned Japanese soldiers realize American soldiers are just like them.  War is hell and no one should be forced to fight in them unless absolutely necessary.  The message in this film about the treachery of war reminds us of the lies we are told and the mythology that is used to demonize the enemy in order to justify war in the first place, but the message is clumsily told, despite its ultimate poignancy.  From the Japanese perspective, great care is taken to highlight the sense of honor, perfectly expressed by the rock solid leadership of Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi, only to see that honor evaporate under duress and turn to murder.  Americans are seen doing the same thing.  War does not distinguish among victims.  Watanabe’s performance is all the more impressive because he offers staggeringly effective leadership that confounds his more traditional minded officers.   

 

By the numbers, 100,000 U.S. troops attacked Iwo Jima, nearly 7000 died and 20,000 were injured, while 20,000 Japanese soldiers defended the island and only 1000 survived.  In this film, we are lead to believe only one Japanese soldier survives, which heightens the tragedy meter, elevating the level of anguish and sorrow.  In this film, we continue to hear gunfire off in the distance even when the Japanese have been whittled down to about 25 soldiers huddled together in a cave starving to death.  It’s a little misleading,  Most of the film is a sepia-toned black and white, and after an initial beach invasion which is over very quickly, the Japanese are forced to retreat into caves they dug, which is the only way they survived the relentless air assault.  But from there, they had no access to food or water once their supplies ran out.  The Japanese had no air or Naval support, but were left to fight to the last man.  There’s a chilling Japanese radio broadcast from home where young school children sing a song to bolster their troop’s morale, claiming the safety of the mainland depends on them, which comes at a moment when all is already lost.  It’s a haunting moment in the film with a profound effect, but overall, it’s a good, just not a great overall effort. 

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

It's hard to explain exactly why Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima is so much better than its companion World War II film Flags Of Our Fathers, except to say that Flags tries too hard to emphasize the ironies of selling a war, while Letters deals with the ins and outs of the war itself. Aside from a short modern framing device and a handful of flashbacks, Letters From Iwo Jima starts just before the U.S. invasion of a tactically significant Japanese island, and ends with the U.S. victory. All of this is shown exclusively from the Japanese military perspective, as they dig tunnels, lay in supplies, and prepare to fight off the Americans with almost no resources save their own discipline. And as the battle wears on, even that breaks down.

Eastwood and co-screenwriters Paul Haggis and Iris Yamashita (working from a book by Tadamichi Kuribayashi) finesse the trick of making the historical bad guys into sympathetic characters by dividing them into blinkered, remorseless traditionalists and homesick grunts. Splitting the difference is Ken Watanabe, playing the mission commander, an American-schooled Lt. General more interested in keeping his troops alive for a sustained attack than sacrificing them for some nebulous sense of honor. To some extent, Letters From Iwo Jima is cheap in the way it manipulates audience sentiment, and the few scenes where the Japanese soldiers learn how much they resemble their enemy are way too on-the-nose.

At the same time, Eastwood and company capture what it must have been like for a simple baker like Kazunari Ninomiya, dealing with conflicting orders and a nationalist philosophy that values martyrdom over success. Those looking for contemporary relevance in Letters From Iwo Jima could find it all over the sociopolitical map, from the insanity of terrorist suicide bombers to the frustrations of a "stay the course" foreign policy. The most significant moment in the film is one of its least strident: an unsparing scene where American soldiers execute a handful of prisoners rather than risking their own lives to transport them. It's hard to argue with those soldiers from a strategic point of view, but in the context of Letters, their choice convinces the Japanese to fight to the death rather than surrendering, which ultimately costs even more American lives. Eastwood handles that kind of minute study of human darkness best, showing how people make impossible choices with dreadful repercussions.

The New Yorker (David Denby) review

In Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the Japanese star Ken Watanabe, who plays General Kuribayashi, the defender of the island, sweeps off his Army cap and snaps his head downward in an abrupt bow. This curt signature gesture, performed before his officers, is an expression of mastery and, at the same time, of submission—to duty, to Japan, and to death. Eastwood, in such movies as “Unforgiven,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and his two Iwo Jima films (“Letters” is a companion piece to “Flags of Our Fathers,” released last fall), has become the Ernest Hemingway of film directors, a man bound, by his own sense of duty, to celebrate valor in defeat. In the early scenes of “Flags of Our Fathers,” we experienced the vulnerability of the American marines: the Japanese Army, dug into caves and tunnels, lured the Americans onto the beach by holding their fire. Now, in a unique reversal of perspective, we are inside the caves and tunnels. Thrown among the Others—the foreigners hated for their seeming strangeness as much as for their threat—we find ourselves in the morally demanding but exhilarating position of rooting for them. They are outnumbered, they will not be reinforced, and their country expects them to die. They are men with families, wives, and even some benevolent feelings about their American foe. The movie leaves out any reference to Japanese atrocities in China and elsewhere, and this may rankle countries with bad memories of Japanese occupation. On Iwo Jima in 1945, however, the Japanese are not military fascists but men deciding how to die well. The movie, which is almost entirely in Japanese, and burnished with a scrupulous sense of respect, is an exploration of the varieties of stoicism.

“Letters from Iwo Jima,” taken together with “Flags,” is a considerable act of ethical imagination, and I wish I could say that it was also a great film. But both General Kuribayashi and his friend and fellow-officer Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), an Olympic equestrian before the war, are such idealized officer figures—modest and gallant—that they lose any serious interest as characters, and a lesser officer who pressures his men into suicide passes by too quickly to register as more than a will-driven fanatic. The young Japanese soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a gentle baker who was conscripted into the Army and just wants to get back to his family, is meant to be a life-affirming figure among the death cultists, but, as constructed by the screenwriter, Iris Yamashita, he’s a slight and bashful man who can’t carry the philosophical weight assigned to him. The movie was impressively shot by the cinematographer Tom Stern in the same style as “Flags”—largely in black-and-white, with occasional flashes of wine-dark blood or orange flame—but the many scenes in caves and tunnels induce claustrophobia. One could say that Eastwood had little choice: any Japanese soldier who stepped outside after the huge American force established itself on the island had to face devastating fire. The repetitiveness of the visual scheme is inherent in the authentic way that Eastwood conceived his two-part film. But the project lacks the variety of sensuous pleasures that a great movie has to provide.

The Nation (Stuart Klawans) review  (Page 2)

With the release of Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima two months after his Flags of Our Fathers, one of the most remarkable projects in American film history is complete. It astonishes me to think that even a producer-director of Eastwood's influence could carry it off: making two complete films about the battle for Iwo Jima, one from the point of view of the American servicemen and the other from the Japanese viewpoint, with an all-Japanese cast speaking their own language. The ambition is impressive in itself, but what's laudable is how that ambition has been realized, with dignity, compassion and a filmmaker's equivalent of plain-spoken eloquence.

Flags of Our Fathers (reviewed December 4) re-creates the past by exploring a document of the war: the famous photograph of the American flag-raising. Letters From Iwo Jima adopts the same narrative strategy but uses as its documents the correspondence (both delivered and unsent) of Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima. So the American film is about visual images and the manufacture of public meaning; the Japanese film, about words and personal convictions. Here is a paradox: Although the great majority of the characters in Letters From Iwo Jima believe they must offer their lives for their emperor, their manner of making that sacrifice turns out to be highly individual.

Two figures predominate in the large cast: the aristocratic commanding general, Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by the godlike Ken Watanabe), and a sardonic, sly, hapless conscript named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), who was a baker in civilian life and would just as soon turn the island over to the Americans. With an ease and grace more suited to the general than the foot soldier, Eastwood and his screenwriters (Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis) slowly draw together the fates of these two. Saigo turns into a fighter, not through love of his country but from personal loyalty to the general. He clings to Kuribayashi because the general, though steeped in the code of the Japanese warrior, is himself idiosyncratic. He breaks with tradition, to the outrage of his subordinate officers, by conserving his troops' strength and falling back into underground bunkers rather than plunging into glorious battle. Worst of all, he forbids his men to commit suicide when they lose a position, ordering them instead to escape and go on fighting. Kuribayashi brushes away the charge that such behavior is a disgrace. He has lived in the United States, admires Americans and knows that the force coming his way is overwhelming. With surrender unthinkable, he and his men are already dead. The best they can do is to keep up whatever spirit they can muster.

Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima together form an enormous diptych that has all the grandeur these stories demand. There are crowd scenes, chaotic battles (filmed in the contemporary style, with most of the color drained away), vistas of vast fleets of warships and airplanes. What emerges most powerfully, though, is an intimate sense of sorrow, and of decency. If there is any chance that popular American cinema will continue to be an art form--a very slight chance, I'd say, looking back over the past year's major studio releases--then I bet Eastwood's Iwo Jima films will stand as a monumental achievement, and an enduring one.

The Village Voice [Scott Foundas]

 

In the new Clint Eastwood movie, ordinary young men—husbands and fathers, artisans and aristocrats—are drafted into a war whose motives many of them do not fully understand. There, on an island called Iwo Jima, they fight against an enemy who has been demonized by wartime propaganda—a supposedly brutal oppressor with a taste for torture. And at each step of the way, they are reassured by their superiors that they are doing what is just, what is right. The movie is Letters From Iwo Jima, though I could just as well be talking about Eastwood's previous film, Flags of Our Fathers, which told much the same story, except that the young men in that version were called Joe, Ira, and Hank, and here their names are Saigo, Nishi, and Shimizu.

This simple act of mirroring can't help but seem provocative in a movie that's about to be released into a nation at war—a war, like most others, predicated on absolutist notions of good and evil. But in Letters, as in Flags, Eastwood seems less concerned with provocation than with contemplation of a popular military campaign and its supposed days of glory. The second film completes and deepens the first, yet to view them side by side is to see not two sides of a coin but rather two distinct panels in a diptych—one rendered with the disquieting Americana of an Edward Hopper canvas, the other with the patient brushstrokes of a byobu screen. Whereas Flags fanned out over several decades to show the long-range impact of World War II on men who shuddered at the thought of their generation's purported greatness, Letters narrows its focus to Iwo Jima and those thousands of Japanese troops who endured weeks of food shortages and dysentery epidemics only to perish in hails of bullets, or, in some cases, impaled by their own swords. And where the earlier film punctuated its monochromatic color palette with flashes of Old Glory (always drenched in irony), the images in Letters move even closer to stark black-and-white, as if to remind us that the movie's moral landscape is anything but.

Eastwood, who directed Letters from a screenplay he commissioned by the first-time Japanese American screenwriter Iris Yamashita (a research assistant on Flags), seems awestruck by the dogged perseverance of the Japanese, who continued to fight to the death even when all hope was lost. Not surprisingly, he shows a special affinity for the Japanese Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who masterminded that defense and whose tender letters home to his family appear in the film as narration. Played by Ken Watanabe, Kuribayashi, who opposes the war in principle but will nevertheless sacrifice all for his country, emerges as exactly the kind of strong but sensitive man of action Eastwood himself has played in many of his later films—a poet-warrior whose moral compass points one way, his sense of duty another. In Letters, he's surrounded by a literal army of similarly conflicted individuals (some fictional and some fact-based), from the lowly Private Saigo (Japanese pop star Kazunari Ninomiya), who dreams of returning to the small bakery he ran with his pregnant wife before the war, to the regal Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), an Olympic horse-jumping champion who counts Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks among his personal friends. In voiceover, we hear their letters home too, nearly all of them of a piece in their lyrical candor ("Am I digging my own grave?" Saigo wonders to his wife) and their eagerness to discuss anything but the fog of war.

Letters From Iwo Jima isn't the first wartime drama to suggest that to know thine enemy is to know thyself. William Wharton's autobiographical 1982 novel, A Midnight Clear, for example, tells of a brief détente between platoons of American and German soldiers at Christmastime 1944, while last year's sentimental French Oscar entry, Joyeux Noël, depicted a similar holiday hiatus on the battlefields of World War I. But the special power of Eastwood's achievement is that, save for one indelible moment, the mutual recognition between sworn adversaries happens not on-screen, but later, as we piece the two films together in our minds. The exception comes near the end of Letters, after Nishi retrieves a folded-up note from among the effects of an American P.O.W. who has just died before him. Written by the dead soldier's mother, it is, like so much of the correspondence in Letters, almost banal in its concerns—some dogs dug a hole under the fence and got loose in the neighborhood, and please come home safely. Then, in closing, this advice: "Remember what I said to you. Always do what is right, because it is right." It is Eastwood's queasy triumph that, when we hear those words, regardless of what language we speak, they have rarely sounded more foreign.

Reverse Shot (Michael Koresky) review

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager] 

 

World Socialist Web Site review  David Walsh

 

Bright Lights Film Journal review  In Like Clint! by Alan Vanneman, May 2007

 

Pajiba (John Williams) review

 

Eastwoodian Aftermaths.  James Bowman from The American Spectator, February 26, 2007

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

Epinions.com [Steven Flores]

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Barsanti) review [3.5/5]

 

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [A-]

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) review [4/4]

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review [A]

 

Old School Reviews [John Nesbit]

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

DVD Talk theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

 

Reel.com review [2/4]  Jim Hemphill

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

Letters from Iwo Jima  Chris Fujiwara

 

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4/5]

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [5/5]

 

Newsweek (David Ansen) review

 

Confessions of a Film Critic [John Maguire]

 

stylusmagazine.com (Bill Weber) review

 

Edward Copeland on Film

 

DVD Verdict - Two-Disc Special Edition [Bill Gibron]

 

Reel.com dvd review [3/4]  Jerry Renshaw. 2-DVD Special Edition

 

DVD Talk (Preston Jones) dvd review [4/5] [Special Edition]

 

DVDTown - 5-Disc Commemorative Edition [Dean Winkelspecht and John J. Puccio]

 

DVD Talk - Battle for Iwo Jima Commemorative Collector's Edition (Preston Jones)

 

DVD Verdict - Five-Disc Commemorative Edition [Brendan Babish]

 

DVD MovieGuide dvd review ['Heroes of Iwo Jima' Commemorative Edition]  Colin Jacobson

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review [HD-DVD/DVD Combo Version]

 

DVD Verdict (Dennis Prince) dvd review [HD-DVD/DVD Combo Format]

 

DVD Talk (Joshua Zyber) dvd review [4/5] [HD-DVD Version]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review [HD DVD Version]

 

DVD Verdict - HD DVD [Dennis Prince]

 

DVD Talk (Daniel Hirshleifer) dvd review [3/5] [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [3.5/5]

 

Mike D'Angelo review

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

Eye for Film ("Chris") review [4.5/5]

 

eFilmCritic.com (William Goss) review [5/5]

 

Mark Reviews Movies (Mark Dujsik) review [4/4]

 

Film School Rejects (Chris Beaumont) dvd review [A]

 

About.com Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [A]

 

cinematical.com  Jeffrey M. Anderson

 

Entertainment Weekly review [C-]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety.com [Todd McCarthy]

 

Time Out London (Wally Hammond) review

 

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

 

The Observer (Philip French) review

 

Washington Post (Stephen Hunter) review

 

Letters from Iwo Jima  Land of the Dead, by Chris Fujiwara from The Boston Phoenix, February 20, 2007

 

Boston Globe review [4/4]  Ty Burr

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [4/5]

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold

 

Sagacious and audacious: Kiyoshi Kurosawa talks about Letters From ...    Taro Goto interviews Kiyoshi Kurosawa about Eastwood’s LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, February 20, 2007

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [3/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

RogerEbert.com (Jim Emerson) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review  December 20, 2006

 

THE OSCARS; Surrender and Survival In the Crucible of Battle  A.O. Scott from The New York Times, January 7, 2007

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Yunda Eddie Feng

 

CHANGLING                                                            D                     63

aka:  The Exchange

USA  (140 mi)  2008  ‘Scope

 

Wretched can barely begin to describe this heavy-handed, overwrought period drama about seriously misguided police misconduct in the late 1920’s Los Angeles, where the tone of the film exists in a dire state of abject misery that just keeps on giving.  Using Angelina Jolie in another one of her Saint roles, tears flowing in nearly half of her scenes, as she suffers here in such a Christ-like manner so that the rest of us might be saved from this kind of bizarre, oppressively degrading behavior, the problem being some eighty years later the Los Angeles police department remains one of the most corrupt and brutalizing departments in the nation.  Adapted from a real life story which is horrendous enough, Eastwood’s artificial treatment of the material overemphasizes every emotional note, playing it for more than it is worth, which eventually cheapens the real story.  Jolie plays a mother whose 10-year old son disappears after leaving him alone when she was called in to work on her off day.  There isn’t a single moment in the entire film where Jolie takes responsibility or feels remorse for her own negligence.  Instead it’s the LA police department’s fault for waiting 24 hours before they’ll even file a missing persons report.  Six months later, rolled out like a photo op in a brazen attempt to shore up their battered reputation, the police reunite her with her son, only to discover it’s not her son.  Incredibly, the police still insist it is despite physical evidence to the contrary, even bringing in a doctor to support the department’s views.  As she adamently remains convinced this is not her son, the police actually have her committed to a psych ward subject to release only after she’ll admit it is her son, also absolving the police of any responsibility in the matter.  Already mired in a false tone throughout with such broadly painted strokes of saintly good and grotesque evil, the portrayal of the mental hospital is about as subtle as any B shlock movie dripping blood at every turn, where the viewer continuously hears cries of pain and torture in the background and where every single staff member is a horrid picture of evil relishing the idea of sadistically inflicting pain on its patients, which is a prime example of Hollywood overkill.  

 

Somehow, this all started to feel like Jessica Lange in FRANCES (1982), also based on a true story, but if truth be told, Angelina Jolie is no Jessica Lange, and Lange’s character in FRANCES was mistreated far worse.  Instead, Jolie’s horror story is only hinted at, where psychiatric patients were subjected to electric shock out of punishment for disobedience, and many were left in a catatonic state.  Lange’s character in FRANCES, on the other hand, was actually lobotomized in the early 1930’s at a time when the procedure was still experimental and the results were disasterous, leaving her permanently brain damaged, an especially pernicious punishment for the simple crime of a woman speaking her beliefs in 1930’s America.  I only mention this as Lange is a much more sympathetic character, an actress who put her heart and soul into that role.  Jolie, in contrast, is not mature enough to carry this picture and instead goes through the formulaic method actress procedures of a woman scorned and mistreated, who garners very little sympathy due to the overly pathetic nature of her performance, where she continuously utters to the point of nausea, “He’s not my son!” or “Did you kill my son?”  In Jolie’s case, others come to her rescue, arriving at the last moment like the cavalry, while in Lange’s real life story, no one rode to her rescue.  Interesting that it is John Malkovich, invariably the most wacked out character on any movie set, who plays the voice of reason, an energized LA pastor who makes it his life’s mission to expose the corruption of the LA police department.  From the outset this film has misplaced priorities, as it seems too intent on evoking outrage in exposing the events of the past instead of developing an intriguing storyline with any character build up, as even by the end, Jolie feels like a complete stranger to the audience, utterly forgettable.  Certainly one reason was the overemphasis on the artificiality of her overly stylized look, where she kept wearing a heavy fur-laden coat with adorning scarves in the usually sweltering Los Angeles setting, all of which kept distracting the audience from ever developing any real identification with her maudlin character.     

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is based on the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother whose young son disappeared in 1928 and was returned six months later—at least, the Los Angeles Police Department said it was her son. She didn’t recognize him, which irritated the patriarchal and corrupt police captain so much he threw her into a mental hospital. It would be a horrific story even if underplayed, but Eastwood shoots it like a horror movie. The false boy is lit to resemble the Antichrist Damien in The Omen, while in the psychiatric ward, whey-faced loons press their heads against the bars and shriek, ugly nurses leer, and the creepy doctor plots to throw Angie on a gurney and give her jolts of electricity. The ham-handed script by J. Michael Straczynski rearranges events so that the motives of the police captain (Jeffrey Donovan) are unfathomable—he must want Damien to grow up and bring forth Armageddon. The way Eastwood shoves Jolie’s suffering in our face is like a threat to the Academy: “And the Oscar will go to …” She’s a great actress. She doesn’t need his domineering chivalry.

BACKSTORY
Born in California in 1930, Clint Eastwood seems like the obvious pick to direct Changeling, given its setting in Depression-era Los Angeles, but the film’s original director was Ron Howard, who dropped out to direct Frost/Nixon. A father of seven kids, Eastwood told USA Today that he sees Changeling as “a horror film … the worst nightmare an adult could have.” And Angelina Jolie, the world’s most famous mother of six, told Entertainment Weekly, “When Brad [Pitt] saw Changeling, he said he could see my mother … So decent and sweet, but when it came to protecting her children, she somehow found this odd strength.’’

SpoutBlog [Karina Longworth]

Pasadena, 1928. Single mom Angelina Jolie is a switchboard supervisor who glides around the telephone company on rollerskates. It’s adorable, but her signature smoky eyes and blood red lips mean she’s probably moonlighting as either a tramp or a clown. Scenes confirming one option or the other were, unfortunately, left on the cutting room floor.

The LAPD is corrupt –– so corrupt that the holiest man in town is John Malkovich. So when Angie’s son goes missing, they give her back a “fake boy,” and the evil detective (Jeffrey Donovan) can’t figure out if the ensuing scandal means he should have an Irish accent or not.

We drink every time Angelina hysterically proclaims, “He’s not my son!” We get very drunk, and this may be why we can’t figure out why Clint Eastwood made a cheap-looking Lifetime movie that eventually turns into an “And justice for all!” episode of SVU. Just when the drinking game is starting to get really out of control, there’s a twist so shocking that it’s punctuated by two inches of ash falling off a policeman’s cigarette … in slow motion.

This sobers us up pretty quick. “Really, Clint?” we say out loud, right in the middle of the screening. But no one can hear our cry, they’re so overwhelmed by the sound of Angelina’s constant tears, which just keep flowing, long after the stakes have vanished, because Eastwood can’t help but indefinitely extend the misery. So we shrug. “Oscars for all!” Now for another drink.

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

There are three or four movies competing for attention within Changeling, and unfortunately for Clint Eastwood, they’re all equally dreadful melodramatic drivel. In his worst directorial outing since 1999’s True Crime, Eastwood delivers something close to a parody of an Oscar-baiting period picture, establishing a faux-prestigious tone for this “true story” about a 1920s single mother whose son is kidnapped and, when he’s located months later, turns out to be not her son. J. Michael Straczynski’s clip-ready script is a tale of both child and female abuse, as gaunt Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), upon contending that the returned boy isn’t her flesh and blood, comes up against a raft of monstrous misogynistic caricatures led by dismissive captain Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) and the nasty chief of the psych ward that Christine is eventually sent to after the LAPD – trying to avoid further negative press – grows weary of her nay-saying. A righteous anti-police-corruption pastor (John Malkovich) and a giggly, loose-limbed serial killer also find their way into Changeling, which overstuffs itself with sensationalized narrative rubbish that Eastwood shoots with oppressively decorous, corny stateliness epitomized by a slow-motion shot of cigarette ash landing (with a titanic thud) upon a table. The broad, crude construction of most every peripheral character is matched by the Swiss cheese nature of the film’s plot, so that Eastwood’s attempts to comment on culturally entrenched sexism get lost amidst hoary flashbacks, dull procedural machinations, and B-movie hysterics. These reach a crescendo once Christine is confined to the mental institution, an embarrassing sequence involving evil physicians who make Nurse Ratched look timid, Amy Ryan’s benevolent, foul-mouthed hooker and Christine getting a hackneyed last-second reprieve from electroshock therapy. Amidst the statuette-craving histrionics, Jolie valiantly attempts to suffuse Christine with the powerless heartache, frustration and fury of a grieving mother wronged. Yet between Eastwood’s overbearing direction, his story’s leaden moralizing and clunky logic, and his procession of ever-lamer would-be endings, Jolie’s performance ultimately succumbs to mannered routine, no less self-consciously affected and hollow than the proceedings as a whole.

A California of Noir Shadows and Blood  Manohla Dargis at Cannes from The New York Times

CANNES, FranceClint Eastwood has wrangled a number of unruly stars in his long directing career, but somehow he hasn’t been able to do the same with — or for — Angelina Jolie. She’s the lustrous centerpiece of his latest endeavor, “Changeling,” which was shown to a respectful if subdued press audience on Tuesday morning at the Cannes Film Festival. A view of the human beast at its worst, the film is a tricky bit of storytelling business, in part because it involves a true crime with no moral gray areas, in part because it takes place in the 1920s, an era so at odds with its modern star that it’s like watching Joan Crawford do Queen Victoria.

There are actually several monstrous crimes committed in “Changeling,” including those against a single mother named Christine Collins (Ms. Jolie). In March 1928, Christine’s only child, the 9-year-old Walter, disappeared from their Los Angeles home without a trace, or apparent cause. Five months later, the police handed a boy about Walter’s age (though not his height) over to Christine, insisting that he was the missing child. Initially rattled, she soon realized that this other boy, who himself claimed to be Walter, was an imposter. The Los Angeles Police Department, anxious to clean up the case and what had become a public-relations mess, didn’t just tell Christine she was mistaken, they locked her away in a sanitarium.

It’s a lurid, nightmarish story, reminiscent of any number of James Ellroy’s Los Angeles pulp noirs and one that Mr. Eastwood approaches with such restraint that the somber mood soon turns sepulchral. Mr. Eastwood’s regular cinematographer, Tom Stern, keeps the lights characteristically low and leaches out any color that might pop off the screen — Christine’s crimson lipstick and some unnerving splatters of blood notwithstanding. But the absence of Mr. Eastwood’s longtime production designer, Henry Bumstead, who died two years ago, is keenly felt in the overly pristine back-lot and street sets that tend to look more art directed than lived in. J. Michael Straczynski’s screenplay, which draws from the historical record, feels similarly unlived in, particularly when it comes to Christine.

Despite Ms. Jolie’s hard work and Mr. Eastwood’s scrupulous attention, the difficult, fairly one-dimensional character fails to take hold. For much of the film, Christine weeps and pleads, begging the police for help and fending off disbelievers. She clings to hope, the problem being that Ms. Jolie, whose off-screen role as Angelina Jolie is so much more vivid and all-consuming than the parts she now plays on screen, this one included, does not come across as a clinger or a whiner or a pleader or even much of a waterworks. Like Joan Crawford, Ms. Jolie seems capable now of only playing variations on herself, which is why she was more persuasive holding back her tears as a steely Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart.”

Coda: At the press conference that followed the screening, Mr. Eastwood put the kibosh on reports that he would be returning to play Dirty Harry again. “That rumor is incorrect,” Mr. Eastwood said. But “I am!” Ms. Jolie piped up, an idea that seemed to appeal to her director. “Dirty Harriette,” he said, smiling.

UnderGroundOnline [Keith Uhlich]

Changeling opens - as did George Romero’s Land of the Dead - with a semi-ironic use of an old-time Universal Studios logo, hearkening back to lionized days of old from a present-tense vantage point. The joke of it is that the sentiment, in both cases, is a pose. Like Romero with Land, Changeling director Clint Eastwood is as lost with where movies came from as with where they are - his film (based on the late-20s/early-30s era true story of Los Angeles-residing mother/martyr figure Christine Collins) is a rootless jumble of tones and plots, a desiccated nowhereland, like something waiting to be feasted on by Stephen King’s ravenous Langoliers.

There’s hope at first that Eastwood and star Angelina Jolie are using Changeling‘s kidnapping-cum-social reform narrative as a mere framework, the means by which to illuminate Collins’ tempestuous emotional inner life in the way of many a so-called, oft-derided “woman’s picture.” Eastwood’s clearly aware that Collins (with her weeping-willow flapper hat and scarlet letter lipstick) is not so far removed from a Crawford, Davis, or Hayward heroine, but he’s incapable, and quite embarrassingly so, of delving into her psychology. Clint’s emotional/visual cues throughout are strictly film school (most hilariously: an inches-long shard of cigarette ash slow-motion falling to the ground to emphasize a lurid, murderous revelation) and he shifts focus so often that Collins eventually ceases to be the center of her own tale, something that throws Jolie’s awards-baiting shenanigans into even harsher relief.

It’s a terrible performance - all clothes, no soul, colored by the worst sort of vanity (the final straw: a ludicrous Snake Pit-like interlude in a mental hospital, featuring sacrificial supporting actress lamb Amy Ryan, that ends with our down-dressed leading lady almost being shock treated), though unsurprising given the clunky, schematic nature of both Eastwood’s direction and Babylon 5 scribe J. Michael Straczynski’s script. When Collins confronts the twitchy maniac (Jason Butler Harner, indicating unhinged psychosis with all the subtlety of his moustache-twirling forbears) who kidnapped and most likely murdered her young son (Gattlin Griffith), Jolie treads new depths of shameless gusto (screaming “Did you kill my son?!!” with every possible inflection and gesture, as if performing the “my sister/my daughter” confessional from Chinatown at the sycophantic urging of James Lipton), though it’s most certainly of a piece with all that’s sloppily preceded.

Flattery will get you everywhere except to the heart of the matter: Jolie’s Collins is such a mascara-stained saint that she can predict the Best Picture winner of 1935 (It Happened One Night - so infinitely superior, as the character notes, to the likes of DeMille’s Cleopatra), but give her a moment of spiritual closure at movie’s finish and she has to demystify it for our benefit (she has “hope” now, you see). Clint films her like a white-hat Western hero who’s just survived a 140-minute shoot-out (she even gets a tip of the brim from the kindly police detective - Michael Kelly - who helps to extricate her from her troubles), but to the end she remains a hollowed-out nonentity, an empty cipher whose mystery (and femininity) is quashed rather than clarified by the dictates of old hat A-to-B storytelling. It’s sure to be a performance (and a film) praised for its proto-feminist shadings, but Eastwood’s gaze has never come off more crudely Neanderthal.

Mike D'Angelo review

Clint Eastwood has directed so many high-toned, award-scarfing prestige movies over the past few years that people have largely forgotten about the schlock he used to churn out, even after Unforgiven cemented forever his reputation as a serious auteur. For every Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby or Letters From Iwo Jima, there’s also been an Absolute Power, True Crime or Blood Work—disposable cinematic potboilers. Changeling, Eastwood’s latest effort (at least until Gran Torino opens in December), looks at first glance as though it must surely belong to the Oscar-bait category, having premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival; Universal’s ad campaign works overtime to sell it as this year’s equivalent of something like Atonement, a sophisticated period melodrama. But prepare not to be edified. For all its highbrow trappings, Changeling is in fact the most compulsively watchable piece of trash Eastwood has ever made.

Much of its breathless allure, I should note, stems from one’s mounting incredulous horror at the knowledge (revealed in an opening title) that these insane events actually happened. On March 10, 1928, a single LA mother named Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returned home from work to discover that her nine-year-old son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith), had vanished. Five months later, the LAPD triumphantly announced that the boy had been found, in the company of an Illinois drifter—and were none too happy when Collins spoiled the highly publicized trainside reunion by announcing that they’d presented her with someone else’s kid. Indeed, so intent was Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) on closing the case that when Collins persisted in her denial, he declared her mentally unsound and locked her up in a psychiatric ward, despite the efforts of a crusading reverend (John Malkovich) on her behalf. Meanwhile, an intrepid detective (Michael Kelly), working an unrelated case, made a startling discovery ...

That brief synopsis only scratches the surface of what was known, in its day, as the Wineville Chicken Coop case—a saga so absurdly sensational that you can only wonder how on Earth it ever fell into obscurity in the first place, and so notorious at the time that Wineville hastily changed its name to Mira Loma in an effort to escape negative associations. Rediscovered and fashioned into a somewhat ungainly script by Babylon 5 scribe J. Michael Straczynski, the tale plays, in Eastwood’s so-called “classical” style (which really amounts to a sort of measured impatience), like lurid dime-store pulp disguised as a case study of institutional corruption. It doesn’t help that Jolie, a defiantly modern actress, seems to be in constant battle with the period setting; her solution is to turn up the volume yet another notch in each successive scene. And pity poor Amy Ryan, so indelible in Gone Baby Gone, who’s saddled here with the tired role of a good-hearted, wisecracking hooker and saddled with reams of didactic exposition.

And yet I must confess that I was riveted from start to finish—not by the film’s artistry, which is negligible, but by its sheer ... well, f--ked-up-ness is the only “word” that springs to mind. Changeling aspires to be a muckraking proto-feminist weepie, demonstrating how women of the flapper era were dismissed as hysterics whenever they dared to challenge the male power structure, but its true fascination lies in countless details too damn weird for any screenwriter to have invented. Because the two Walters are played by different actors, there’s no Return of Martin Guerre-style mystery here, but the revelation of the impostor’s motive is a jaw-dropper; likewise various aspects of the parallel investigation, which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling via even the vaguest allusion. And while the film has plenty of cornball Hollywood moments, it also repeatedly thwarts audience expectations—if only by virtue of sticking to the facts of the Wineville case, which was by no means resolved in a cathartic or crowd-pleasing fashion. Think of it as an ideal transition between the summer blockbuster and the quality fall slate.

not coming to a theater near you (Leo Goldsmith) review

 

Pajiba (Daniel Carlson) review

 

Angelina Jolie Suffers For Us All in Changeling; Zinedine Zidane Watches a Good Game in A 21st Century Portrait  J. Hoberman from The Village Voice

 

Changeling and Gran Torino  Double Feature, by Chris Fujiwara from The Boston Phoenix, December 1, 2009

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California

 

The House Next Door [Matt Noller]  at Cannes

 

Cannes Dispatch: Part Four:   Patrick McGavin at Cannes from Stop Smiling magazine

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [4/4]

 

Movie-Vault.com (Julian Boyance) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [2.5/4]

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [2.5/5]  also seen here:  Reel.com review [2/4]

 

Some Came Running: Cannes, Competition: "Changeling," "Two Lovers"  Glenn Kenny at Cannes from Some Came Running

 

The Exchange  Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily

 

Clint, Angelina and the movie with no name  Andrew O’Hehir at Cannes from Salon

 

The Onion A.V. Club review   Keith Phipps

 

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin) review [4/5]

 

Cinematical (Kim Voynar) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [3/5]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [3/5]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

CBC.ca Arts review  Katrina Onstad

 

The Guardian at Cannes 2008 (Peter Bradshaw) review

 

Cannes 2008 diary: 'The Exchange'  Dave Calhoun at Cannes from Time Out London

 

Time Out (Geoff Andrew) review

 

Time Out New York (David Fear) review [2/6]

 

The Globe and Mail (Rick Groen) review [2.5/4]

 

Boston Globe review [2/4]  Wesley Morris

 

Austin Chronicle [Marc Savlov]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review

 

FILM; The Mommy Track  Mark Harris from The New York Times, October 19, 2008

 

GRAN TORINO                                                        C                     71

USA  (116 mi)  2008  ‘Scope

 

Clint Eastwood answers Obama and has a dialogue about race in America, actually reprising a humorous, occasionally gut-slapping variation on his most infamous DIRTY HARRY (1971) role to do it, where nearly every foul word that comes out of his mouth is an expletive directed at one racial group or another.  The man just can’t help himself, and there are scenes within the film that poke fun of this constant factor, sort of like doing variations or riffs on this theme.  This would be despicable in the present age if it came from someone without the stature of Eastwood, who in what is reportedly his final screen appearance seems to relish an excoriation of all the pent up anger brewing just under the surface of a twisted and paralyzed modern society spewing from the unending display of senseless violence that has gripped our nation.  What sense are we to make of all this? 

 

The film is simple enough, an aging Korean war vet, Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, is retired from working the line at the Ford auto plant, is recently widowed, finds that his own family have become complete strangers to him, and with a stockpile of weapons lives alone next door to a Hmong Chinese and Laotian family that emigrated to America during the Vietnam War.  All Kowalski wants is to be left alone in peace and for them to stay off his lawn, where he growls to himself whenever he sees one of his neighbors followed by racial epithets, but trouble ensues when a local gang tries to initiate an introverted kid, Thao (Bee Vang), one of the Hmong family members, to steal Kowalski’s nicely polished vintage 1972 Ford Gran Torino, a plan that goes awry, made even worse when Kowalski has to pull a gun to keep the kid from being kidnapped by the gang afterwards.  In humiliation, the family next door is forever thanking him with gifts and flowers and eventually food when they realize it’s something he actually needs, surviving pretty much on Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and beef jerky.  Thao’s older sister Sue (Ahney Her) is much more receptive, remarkably open and down to earth, taking his remarks in stride and cracking jokes with her racist neighbor, becoming an ambassador and interpreter as she walks him through their home as they’re having a Hmong family barbeque.  That scene in itself is hilarious as it’s a play on nearly every kind of stereotype, but it works through oddball humor, like Kowalski continually calling her Dragon Lady, and the fresh appeal of Her’s performance, as she’s a tremendously gifted, extremely naturalistic actress, easily the best thing in the film. 

 

The problem with this film is that no one seems comfortable with the racist dialogue, so it feels staged and overwritten, as it’s obviously written for provocative effect rather than bearing any resemblance to real life.  Eastwood’s character is a battle hardened war vet disgruntled over the changing racial dynamic in his neighborhood, which he sees as growing from bad to worse, which he expresses through a series of grunts and squints while sitting on his front porch drinking beer, occasionally pulling his gun on the outlaw types, establishing his turf as a do not disturb zone.  In this dangerous and contemptable world, every scene with Sue in it is like a breath of fresh air in this film, as she’s acclimated well to both American as well as her own culture, where she matter of factly states that Hmong girls do well in school while the boys all end up in prison.  So the film instead concentrates on her more troubled (and less interesting) brother who has a harder time of it, as he’s exposed to greater dangers with fewer options, so he is more likely to make that one mistake that he will regret for the rest of his life.  In an amusing manner, Kowalski tries to mold him in a style that more closely resembles himself, but this is ridiculous, as he’s still just a kid without the least bit of ingrained Americana.  So while the film is entertaining in an absurd kind of way, it doesn’t really address any of the social issues it exposes, as Kowalski remains just as much a stranger to his own family as to his neighbors, all of whom (with the exception of Sue) are written in caricature.    

 

Slate (Dana Stevens) review

Gran Torino (Warner Brothers) imagines what would happen if the classic Clint Eastwood hero—Dirty Harry, Unforgiven's Bill Munny, A Fistful of Dollars' Man With No Name—aged into a racist coot who sat on his front porch with a rifle and a six-pack, decrying the invasion of his Detroit suburb by "spooks" and "gooks." It's not much of a stretch; many of Eastwood's iconic roles combine creeping racial anxiety with an element of vigilante justice. But Walt Kowalski, a just-widowed Korean War vet with a grudge against his Hmong neighbors, is Eastwood's furthest venture yet into the comic possibilities of his flintier-than-thou persona.

Walt is a crank and a bigot, but no fool; he can see that his nerdy teenage neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) is being pressured to join a violent neighborhood gang. So Walt scares the gangbangers away with a vintage weapon and a world-class squint. He strikes up a reluctant friendship with Thao, who helps him with household tasks and envies Walt's mint-condition '72 Gran Torino. Thao learns the art of asking out girls and the efficacy of a well-timed dirty joke. Walt learns that "gooks"—at least the unarmed, studious kind—are people too. As for "spooks" … well, the jury remains out, apparently.

Eastwood fans will love this movie, but I confess that I've never been one of them. The man does have a priceless way with a dry putdown (the winner here has to be "Good day, Puss-cake"), and as an actor, he's a master at riffing on his own cinematic myth. But I can't get past his lead-footed direction and the ponderous Manicheanism of his worldview. Gran Torino ends with a fantasy of vigilante violence that squanders all the goodwill its main character has spent the movie accruing. This is the better by far of the two movies Eastwood has made this year, a stripped-down alternative to the overupholstered Changeling. But both movies share a moral vision—bad guys as leering sickos, good guys (and girls) as sacrificial lambs—that shuts down the possibility of any real, well, doubt.

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, from a screenplay by Nick Schenk, based on a story by Dave Johannson and Mr. Schenk, caps his career as both a director and an actor with his portrayal of a heroically redeemed bigot of such humanity and luminosity as to exhaust my supply of superlatives. The movie begins with Mr. Eastwood’s gloweringly cantankerous retired Polish-American autoworker, Walt Kowalski, presiding over his beloved wife’s funeral, and visibly disapproving of everyone in attendance both in the church and at the reception afterward in his Detroit domicile. These include his spoiled but moderately successful sons, their wives and children; his parish priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley); and all his Hmong neighbors, who he feels have invaded his once solidly Polish-Irish community. In short, Walt, like many retirees, refuses to accept a changing world on any terms but his own jaundiced view of humanity, and his hostility has not escaped the attention of a Hmong matriarch sitting on the porch next door, who asks him ironically why he has not left the neighborhood with all the other “white people.”

But Walt is too stubborn to change his ways or his locale. When his children suggest that he might be happier moving to a retirement community they have chosen for him, he virtually throws them out of the house. However, he soon discovers a new perilous problem in the area, that of emerging ethnically and racially divided disaffected young gang members: Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia, African-Americans and Latinos. On one occasion, he rescues a cheeky young Hmong girl named Sue Lor (Ahney Her) from a menacing group of African-Americans by flashing a handgun he has kept in his possession since the Korean War—in which he served with distinction, and possesses the medal to prove it.

We learn later that he is still haunted by the memory of a North Korean youth he killed in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the story shifts to a fatherless Hmong youth, Thao Vang Nor (Bee Vang), living next door, who is being intimidated by a Hmong street gang, to which Thao’s cousin belongs, into stealing Walt’s 1972 Gran Torino, which he keeps lovingly polished in his garage as a reminder of happier times in his life. When Walt, gun drawn, surprises Thao in the garage, the boy flees in a panic to his home, where he is dominated by his mother and two sisters.

When the gang members come after him, a fight breaks out and spills over to Walt’s neatly tended lawn. An outraged Walt springs out of his house with an M-1 rifle in shooting position, causing the gang members to flee and thereby lose face.

Suddenly, Walt is hailed as a hero by his Hmong neighbors, who start bringing him food, drink and plants despite his pleas for them to stop. But when Thao’s family sends Thao to Walt’s house to apologize for his attempted theft of Walt’s Gran Torino, and to offer his free services for a few weeks as an act of contrition, Walt begins to look at his neighbors in a new light. He also strikes up a friendly relationship with Thao’s older sister, Sue.

As for Thao, he begins regarding Walt as the father he never had, and the two become friends. Nonetheless, the Hmong gang members resume their raids and other depredations with explosive firepower of their own. The stage is set for Walt’s climactic confrontation with this new enemy in his life. In the process, Walt has been transformed into an elderly avenging angel with love in his heart for people of a different color, religion and ethnicity.

Mr. Eastwood worked closely with his writers, Mr. Schenk and Mr. Johannson, who were just starting out in the industry, but also with longtime collaborators like cinematographer Tom Stern; production designer James J. Murakami; editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; costume designer Deborah Hopper; and above all casting director Ellen Chenoweth and her associates, Geoffrey Miclat and Amelia Rasche, who had to scour the country for the film’s nonprofessional Hmong performers. The results of all these collaborations add up to a genuinely pioneering production very much worth seeing for the emotional thunderbolt that it is.

Screen International review  Mike Goodridge

Gran Torino is an unpretentious, often very funny humanist drama which is a small jewel in Clint Eastwood's canon of work as a director and a highpoint in his career as an actor. Revolving around a racist curmudgeon with a military past – a cross between Dirty Harry and Archie Bunker – the film is unlikely to reach the box office or critical heights of Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby. But Eastwood's standing as a perennial star, even at 78 years of age, and the publicity surrounding his provocative character Walt Kowalski will guarantee solid box office numbers from adult moviegoers, and a healthy return on investment for Warner Bros and Village Roadshow.

In the awards race, to which he is no stranger, Eastwood is most likely to score recognition in the best actor category. He has never won an acting Oscar and has only two nominations to his credit (for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby), so, regardless of the fact that he gives a magnificent performance here, sentiment alone should drive him into the final five. Eastwood has hinted that this will be his final performance, a fact which may also work in his favour.

The film opens at the funeral of Walt's wife. A Korean War veteran who stands by her coffin grumpily judging his two sons and their families during the service, Kowalski keeps his M1 rifle in the house, is hostile to the local priest (Carley) when he comes to call, and is full of contempt and abuse for the Hmong immigrants who have moved into the neighbourhood.

He has few pleasures in life – gruff banter with the local barber (Lynch), the companionship of his dog Daisy, regular intake of bottled beer, and his Gran Torino car which he keeps in pristine condition in the garage.

Walt's life changes when his neighbour, shy teenager Thao Lor (Vang), is bullied into stealing the Gran Torino by a group of gun-toting Hmong gangbangers. Walt scares him away and the next day pulls his gun on the gang, winning the admiration of all the Hmongs in the neighbourhood. Thao's mother and older sister Sue (Her) insist that Thao confess to Walt that he was the would-be thief and offer to make amends.

Though he wants nothing to do with the Hmongs, Walt likes Sue's spunky personality, and enjoys their tasty food. He puts the boy to work in his house and in the neighbourhood, and the two develop an unlikely rapport. He tries to help Thao develop handyman skills so that he won't follow the seemingly inevitable path into gang warfare. Gradually his understanding of the family next door leads him to unlock his own damaged soul and confront demons from his past.

Eastwood still commands the screen even while he is spitting out racist comments or coughing up blood. He growls, scowls, threatens and pulls a gun whenever he feels like it. But while the trailer might imply that he is returning to a Dirty Harry "Make My Day" persona here, his character ultimately doesn't obliterate the gang with a gun but with a noble act. It's anything but Dirty Harry Redux.

Similarly Walt's abusive language to the Hmongs – which includes just about every racist epithet you can think of – is shocking at first but gradually becomes comic as he himself realises how absurd his prejudices are.

The two young newcomers Bee Vang and Ahney Her give spirited performances as the Lor siblings whose lives are inextricably bound together with loss and violence.

Eastwood is America's great humanist director at present, making eloquent calls for compassion in films like Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima and this year's Changeling, but never at the expense of spinning a good yarn. Gran Torino is a plea for racial tolerance in the US but it is also a compelling story of friendship which lingers in the mind when the extravagances of Benjamin Button and Australia have faded from memory.

As with Eastwood's other recent films, the film is ultimately a tearjerker with a momentously moving finale. As Clint's own gravelly voice starts up over the end credits singing the mournful title song, it's genuinely sad to think we might not see him act again, but somehow fitting that he should bow out with Walt Kowalski.

Village Voice (Scott Foundas) review

Walt Kowalski growls a lot—a dyspeptic rumble that wells up from deep inside his belly when he catches sight of his midriff-baring teenage granddaughter text-messaging her way through her grandmother's funeral, or when his good-for-nothing son and daughter-in-law suggest that he sell his house in a gang-infested corner of suburban Detroit and move to one of those plasticine retirement homes that look so nice in the brochures.

Like many characters Clint Eastwood has played in his six-decade screen career, Walt Kowalski is a man outside of his own time—a man who senses on some deep, inarticulable level that he has outlived his own usefulness. He's a little bit of "Dirty" Harry Callahan, brandishing his disgust (and his firearm) at the unsightly blemishes of a value-less society; a little bit of Million Dollar Baby's Frankie Dunn, the rundown boxing trainer who's been as much of a disappointment to himself as to his estranged family; and more than a little bit of Unforgiven's Bill Munny, the has-been gunslinger haunted by the sins of his past but unable to refuse one last ride in the saddle. And much like those movies, Gran Torino (which Eastwood directed from a generally superb script by newcomer Nick Schenk) is about what happens when circumstance hurls Walt Kowalski into direct conflict with the present.

Like Unforgiven, Gran Torino begins with the death of the Eastwood character's unseen but implicitly saintly wife, after which Walt only has eyes for two things—his faithful canine companion and the gleaming 1972 Ford Gran Torino that sits in his garage, a reminder of the now-defunct assembly line where he spent most of his adult life. Back then, Walt's neighborhood was an enclave of the blue-collar sons and daughters of European immigrants. Now, those same streets have been taken over by another immigrant population—the Hmong people of China, Thailand, and Laos, who fought on "our" side during the CIA's Vietnam-era shadow wars, even if, to Walt, they're no different from the "jabbering gooks" he fought against in Korea.

As Walt rants about the "zipperheads" dragging down the neighborhood, brushes off the barely postpubescent priest who comes around to give Walt confession, and growls some more, Gran Torino looks to be shaping up as something of a gently un-p.c., geriatric crowd-pleaser of the Space Cowboys variety. And if that's all you want or expect of Gran Torino, then that's exactly what it will be—no matter that Eastwood, for whom moviemaking has long been symbiotic with his love of jazz, merely uses the bass line of a butt-kicking Clint Eastwood action movie to play a series of complex variations on his career-abiding themes.

Mostly, Gran Torino is a two-hander between Walt and the literal boy next door—an introverted, fatherless Hmong teen, Thao (Bee Vang), who caves to pressure from a gangbanger cousin and tries to steal Walt's car in a botched initiation rite. Gradually and grudgingly, Walt takes the boy under his wing and takes it upon himself to "man him up" a bit—but only after Walt first steps across the property line and into the Hmong world. At its most didactic, Gran Torino has Walt stare into a mirror and realize that he has more in common with these "foreigners" than he does with his own flesh and blood, but more often, the movie works by subtle implication. Where Korea was Walt's war, Vietnam was the Hmong's. Both understand that a man who has seen war can never not be that man, and that the kind of absolution Walt Kowalski seeks won't be found in a confessional.

This is hardly the first time Eastwood has played a man with a shadowy past, but rarely have the shadows been so vividly illuminated (no matter the director's trademark preference for chiaroscuro lighting). "We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea and use you for sandbags," Walt barks while shoving his old M-1 in the face of one of the gang members who continue to terrorize Thao's family—a moment (one of the finest Eastwood has ever acted) that echoes the image of the Iwo Jima survivor stirred from a nightmare at the start of Flags of Our Fathers. Only, Walt Kowalski is wide awake, and the nightmare is still unfolding.

"The thing that haunts a man most is what he isn't ordered to do," Walt says in Gran Torino's defining scene, and the thing that has long haunted Eastwood is the legacy of American violence and the false heroic myths on which that legacy has been written. For him, romanticized movie violence long ago lost its allure, and at least since Unforgiven, the act of killing another human being has been depicted as one that leaves a permanent scar on men's psyches. In Gran Torino, that strain of investigation reaches its apotheosis in an inversion of Unforgiven's climactic barroom standoff, a scene that brings the curtain down on Eastwood's cycle of urban-crime films as hauntingly as the earlier one did on his Westerns.

I'm not sure if Gran Torino is Eastwood's "best" film, to whatever extent such trivial distinctions matter. Certainly, it's a rougher, less formally elegant one than the masterly Unforgiven and A Perfect World. But especially when viewed in light of this year's earlier Changeling (which, on the surface, looks like the more "important" movie), it seems like one of Eastwood's most personal, right down to his raspy warbling of the self-penned end-credits song. Above all, it feels like a summation of everything he represents as a filmmaker and a movie star, and perhaps also a farewell. "That," future generations of fathers will someday tell their sons, "is what Clint Eastwood was all about."

BFI | Sight & Sound | Gran Torino (2008)  Kate Stables from Sight and Sound, March 2009

Changeling and Gran Torino  Double Feature, by Chris Fujiwara from The Boston Phoenix, December 1, 2009

 

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [2/5]

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

 

The Onion A.V. Club (Keith Phipps) review

 

Slant Magazine review  Bill Weber

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Film School Rejects [Neil Miller]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [1/5]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Reel.com review [2/4]  Sean O’Connell, also seen here:  filmcritic.com (Sean O'Connell) review [1.5/5]

 

Entertainment Weekly review [A-]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Time Out New York (Joshua Rothkopf) review [3/6]

 

Time Out Chicago (Ben Kenigsberg) review [3/6]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [2/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 

Clint Eastwood shines up his 'Gran Torino'  Geoff Boucher from The LA Times, January 7, 2009

 

INVICTUS                                                                 B-                    81

USA  (134 mi)  2009  ‘Scope

 

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 

—Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, 1875

 

This film is pretty much exactly what one might expect, which is a chance for Morgan Freeman to play Nelson Mandela, directed by old buddy Eastwood, but the film is too narrowly focused, spending the entire length of the film on a sport that’s not even understood in America—rugby.   Opening with whites in a manicured green field playing rugby, while across the street young black kids are playing soccer in an abandoned dirt field, the racial lines of demarcation are drawn just as Mandela is being whisked into office as the country’s first black President.  Nearly anti-political, or as close to it as possible, apartheid is already placed on the back burners as Mandela stakes his presidency on reconciliation between the races, using rugby as his best case scenario, as it’s perceived as an exclusively white man’s game, although there is a lone black player, and many in his own government are ready to banish the sport altogether due to its apartheid era image.  Mandela himself, while imprisoned as a supposed terrorist to Robben Island penitentiary, always rooted for the opposition to the South African team, as that was the team the prison guards always rooted for.  But as President, Mandela sees it as an opportunity to unify his country, where images of everyone rooting for the same team carry more weight than his unity speeches.  So why not start with South Africa’s national rugby team?   Well for starters, the team loses regularly and since the election, has had a lackadaisical attitude about just what country they are playing for, as most whites felt the country was going to the dogs in the hands of blacks.  Certainly one of the strongest scenes is Mandela’s plea to the exiting white workers on his first day in office, calling them all into his office to encourage them to stay, pleading his case that the first order of business was forgiveness.  Freeman certainly captures the nobility of the man, but the narrow confines of the script never allows his complexities to fully develop, instead it manifests itself through small gestures of kindness and politeness, always showing appreciation for everyone around him, but as a character he’s barely fleshed out and mostly disappears during the second half of the movie.     

 

When Mandela calls in the captain of the rugby team, none other than Matt Damon speaking that Afrikaner accent, and pesters him with questions on leadership and inspiration, Damon’s head spins a bit before he fully understands what was being asked of him, to win the Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa in one year’s time.  With the choice of Damon as the star, is there ever any question about the outcome?  While the portrayal is entirely fictionalized, though based on historical events, they use the ROCKY (1976) rags to riches formula, accentuating how terrible they were initially, a team in shambles that suddenly comes together under one common purpose, defying the odds and beating teams that were supposedly better than they were, all in the faint hope that they could play in the World Cup Rugby finals before a television audience that might reach over a billion people.  There’s even a TV rugby analyst that keeps showing up spelling out the gloom and doom he forecasts for the South African team that by his observation has failed to show even an ounce of courage.  Well of course this is the hackneyed method to build suspense when the audience already knows the outcome, as otherwise, why are we watching this spectacle?  While the initial 45 minutes of the film is interesting, as it shows Mandela’s close circle or friends and his general routine, especially sharing pleasantries with his subordinates, including his black and white security team, reminding the viewer of the power of his personality which expresses itself through warmth and self-deprecating humor, not power grab tactics, and the film takes the players to Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, a place he spent 27 years, but by the time we move almost exclusively into the sports arena, showing game after game, scrum after scrum, hit after hit, a team with injuries and cuts and bruises, battered but not beaten, where they have to beat a team that is portrayed as invincible, it feels slow and plodding and is in bad need of an editor to shorten this section which is strung out entirely too long, becoming overly conventional and formulaic, offering little inventiveness, turning this into a sentimentalized weeper of sorts, a film that relies on utter manipulation to show how a sporting event could unite a nation.  If only it were that easy.  Life just isn’t this simplistic.      

 

Washington Post (Ann Hornaday) review

If 2009 had a most valuable player award for the movies, it would have to go to Matt Damon. Whether he's appearing in "The Informant!," a Sarah Silverman Web parody or in Clint Eastwood's stirring post-apartheid drama, "Invictus," he has been consistently spot-on and almost breathtakingly self-effacing. He has become that most unlikely Hollywood rarity: a character actor with a matinee-idol face.

In "Invictus," Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team the Springboks, which in 1995 won the World Cup. The movie tells the story of that unlikely and politically crucial victory, which as much as anything was the result of the gentle coaxing and adamantine moral suasion of the country's new president, Nelson Mandela.

Morgan Freeman doesn't play Mandela as much as inhabit the man, in a performance that seems to embody the very transcendence that Mandela himself has come to stand for. Freeman captures with perfect pitch the inner workings of a man who, put in charge of a country still ravaged by the still-fresh violence and injustices of apartheid, sees an opportunity for healing in the rites and rituals of sport. His job is to forge within the black community a sense of identification with a mostly white team that for years has represented oppression.

Eastwood adopts a flat, uninflected style for "Invictus," wisely letting this remarkable story tell itself with a minimum of flourish or underlining. The result is a thoroughly absorbing, inspiring movie that, like last year's "Milk," features one of the year's most galvanizing performances. Freeman doesn't merely impersonate Mandela as much as personify not just political genius but an almost superhuman suppleness of character. Rugby is exciting, sure, but there's nothing more thrilling than radical forgiveness in action.

Twitch [Jim Tudor]

A new film from Clint Eastwood is starting to be a regular annual occurrence, like a major sports championship match or the films of Woody Allen.  "Invictus", Eastwood's latest directorial effort, has more in common with the former than the latter, as it centers around South African former President Nelson Mandela's involvement with the sport of rugby, propelling the national team to the World Cup finals.  Missing is Eastwood's usual looming specter of death, the most common thematic element in his career.  But on the flip side, as if to make up for it,  Eastwood's secondary favorite elements of recent years are very present: racial tension, and Morgan Freeman (as Mandela).  The biggest surprise of it all is the fact that this film, riding in like a drama-heavy historical epic with "important" written all over it, is, in actuality, a feel good sports movie - albeit one with major racial, political, and social themes wrapped around it.

On one hand, "Invictus" is a nice account of President's Mandela's efforts to racially unify newly post-apartheid South Africa through mutual love and support of the national rugby team.  But on the other hand, the film inadvertently depicts Mandela as a rugby-obsessed eccentric, valuing it above all other pressing needs of the country.  Seriously, in virtually every scene, if Mandela's not halting a staff meeting to turn on the TV for a rugby update, he's bracketing World Cup stats on a chart in his office.  He also visits the team on the field, and takes official office meetings with the captain of the team, played by Matt Damon.  The promise of getting to play Nelson Mandela had to sound like the opportunity of a lifetime for chronic narrator Morgan Freeman, but I have to wonder if this is the Mandela movie anyone had in mind.

 Based in events of recent history (1995, to be exact),  "Invictus" completely sidesteps Mandela's great personal troubles of his post prison time, and glazes over the major tasks and other aspects of being president of a newly radically changed country.  And yet by focusing on lighter fare, "Invictus" isn't any less of a drag that it might've been had it actually been saddled with all that big-picture baggage.  Actually, calling the film a drag is overstating it, but if there is such as thing as a breezy drag, "Invictus" is it.  Eastwood can never quite find the exact focus of the story, bouncing around from Mandela, to Mandela's security detail, to the family of the rugby team captain - but never allowing any to develop fully.  More embarrassingly, there are numerous red herring deathly threats peppered throughout the film for absolutely no good reason.  It all builds up to the formulaic Big Game, the outcome of which actually doesn't matter at all in the greater fabric of the story.  It's all indicative of a larger problem, which is the terminally loose screenplay.

 "Invictus" is a lightweight tangent in Eastwood's otherwise greatly respectable filmography of darkness, death, and human toil.  Supposedly he did it as a favor for his good friend Freeman, who yes, is great as Mandela.  In any case, we can hope that next year's inevitable new Clint Eastwood film will go the distance, as this one never quite does.

City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul (Ella Taylor) review

Aside from Morgan Freeman, who makes a fabulous Nelson Mandela, there's this to savor about Invictus, a rosy tale of racial reconciliation neatly wrapped in a triumphalist sports movie: The film is blessedly free of Obama parallels. Also, we could use a happy global moment, and Eastwood picks one out of the otherwise rocky history of South Africa, when the country's first post-apartheid president stepped out of the jail where he'd languished for 27 years and firmly set aside revenge politics in favor of national unity.

More than most, Mandela understood the cohesive power of the symbol—in this case, the bright-green uniform of the South African rugby team the Springboks, echoing the flag equally beloved by whites and hated by blacks under apartheid. Adapted by South African writer Anthony Peckham from a book by former London Independent journalist John Carlin, Invictus tells the story of how Mandela, with help from the Afrikaner team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, gym-pumped into Michelin Man and oozing fair play), turned a World Cup rugby match into a moment of rainbow solidarity.

Like every Eastwood production, Invictus is stately, handsomely mounted, attentive to detail right down to the Marmite adorning the team's breakfast buffet, and relentlessly conventional. As a portrait of a hero, the movie effortlessly brings a lump to the throat (Freeman gives a subtly crafted performance that blends Mandela's physical frailty with his easy charm and cerebral wit); as history, it is borderline daft and selective to the point of distortion. It's true that you can't shoehorn a nation's history into a single movie, but Peckham's dialogue, stuffed with strenuously underlined exposition, blazes an indecently fast trail from mutual suspicion to interracial love and understanding.

The powerful dislike between Mandela's black and white bodyguards melts into reverence for their leader and joint cheerleading for the team. Within minutes of their enforced arrival in the shantytowns, the Springboks (including Eastwood's cute son, Scott, who gets plenty of money shots) are happily hoisting adoring little black boys onto their shoulders. Pienaar's parents' maid gets tickets to the cup final, where she and the mistress sit side-by-side, rib-poking with every home-team score.

Never mind that many white supremacists fled abroad to seethe in safety over the end of white privilege. Never mind that the ANC, the very movement that had worked for years to free Mandela and bring down apartheid, is confined here to a lone reductive scene that dismisses a complex resistance group as a bunch of thuggish ideologues. And Winnie Mandela, who is no picnic but deserves a place in this story, is kicked out of the movie altogether, save for a couple of cheap gibes at her betrayal of her long-suffering husband. She and the extremist wing of the ANC have a right to more nuanced exposure in Invictus, if only to acknowledge the unpalatable truth that apartheid manufactured more monsters than it did dignified heroes with forgiveness in their hearts.

That Mandela is a great man is beyond dispute—but that's no excuse to position him in a Great Man theory of history. In the end, Invictus becomes what almost every Eastwood movie becomes: an inquiry into masculinity shaped in the director's own image, with the answers already supplied.

Eastwood can't play his own wounded hero this time, but his perennial ideal is all here in Mandela the courtly gentleman, Mandela the elderly yet still potent flirt, Mandela the dry wit—above all, in Mandela the rugged individualist who won't toe the PC line when duty suggests otherwise. Manning up in Eastwoodland has matured with age, from "Revenge is sweet" (the final scene in Unforgiven) to "The best revenge is living well." Maybe, but in real life that's not enough. Mandela befriended his prison guards and refused to make enemies of South African whites, including his former tormentors. Yet for all his lovely manners, his donations to worthy causes, his insistence on pouring his own tea, or even his high-minded dedication to reconciling former enemies, South Africa today is a muddle of hope and despair.

For the record, I cried my way through the climactic game, with all its kitschy slow-mo lopes around the pitch, its roar of the crowd and peripheral melodrama. But I came out feeling had. How Invictus will play in the North American multiplex (foreign sport + foreign country = not promising) is a lot less interesting than its reception in Johannesburg and—perhaps more significantly—in the townships, where conditions remain abysmal and communities are decimated by a long-untended AIDS epidemic that makes our own crisis look like a tea party. Today's South Africa has been many decades in the making, and it is the product not of one good man but of movements full of courageous men and women who almost certainly rose to power before they were ready. But as they say in the pitch meetings, where's the glamour in that? 

Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009)  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi, December 11, 2009

 
PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review
 
The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

ReelTalk (Betty Jo Tucker) review

 

Pajiba (Dustin Rowles) review
 
Slate (Dana Stevens) review

eFilmCritic.com (Erik Childress) review [4/5]

filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [4/5]
 
Slant Magazine review [2/4]  Nick Schager

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin) review [3/5]

The Onion A.V. Club review [B]  Keith Phipps

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [4/5]

 

Mark Reviews Movies [Mark Dujsik]
 
Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw
 
Screen International (Mike Goodridge) review
 

About.com Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [C+]

 

DVD Talk (Jason Bailey) review [3/5]

 

DVD Talk (Brian Orndorf) review [3/5]

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [C+]

 

CineSnob.net (Kiko Martinez) review [B+]

 

FilmJerk.com (Carrie Specht) review [C+]

 

The Land of Eric (Eric D. Snider) review [C+]

 

3 Black Chicks ("The Diva") review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B+]  Owen Gleiberman

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  Kirk Honeycutt

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

The Independent (Mike Goodridge, Editor, 'Screen International') review [3/5]

 

Austin Chronicle review [3/5]  Marjorie Baumgarten

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [3/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review

 

Invictus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

William Ernest Henley  Wikipedia

 

HEREAFTER                                                           C+                   79                                           

USA  (129 mi)  2010  ‘Scope

 

While this is basically the Steven Spielberg produced BABEL (2006) of the afterlife, an interweaving string of three narratives that in itself hopes to make the audience feel a part of the interconnectedness of all things, the problem being that some of the narratives are stronger than others, turning this into something of an endurance test to get through the weaker moments in order to enjoy the more powerful moments.  If one of these strands weren’t so strong, the film may not be worth the effort, as it’s a plodding, largely uninteresting series of events where the characters themselves couldn’t be more disinterested, leading to an all-too contrived finale that was expected from the outset.  Cécile de France, in a horribly unbecoming wig, plays Marie LeLay, a rich and highly successful French television journalist who suffers a near-death experience after nearly drowning while on holiday in Hawaii in the opening tsunami sequence, which in an explosive rush places the audience into the hands of computer graphics designers, something all the rage these days, but not always the thrill the directors hope for.  Though momentarily overwhelming, the entire sequence then becomes strangely inconsequential to the rest of the world that moves on to its next human catastrophe, a foreboding sign of what to expect for the rest of the film.  Matt Damon is George, a psychologically troubled psychic in San Francisco who is overwhelmingly scarred by his hauntingly sad experiences with the dead, which has made him give up his business in an attempt to try to lead a normal life.  Easily the most fascinating sequence is in London and involves two twin brothers, Frankie and George McLaren as Marcus and Jason, where one dies early on in a tragic accident leaving the other alone to fend for himself, feeling suddenly abandoned and lost, hopelessly disconnected from the rest of the world.  It must be said that the digital photography used for this film leaves the screen colorless, permeated in a gray graininess, always feeling underlit, as if darkness pervades every frame.                

 

The Cécile de France segments haven’t got an ounce of energy anywhere to speak of and feel stereotypically flat throughout the entire film, as if her world has collapsed and she needs to reinvent herself as a completely new person.  Since she wasn’t all that interesting to begin with, this is the hardest of the three sequences to endure.  Damon is slightly more interesting because unlike the common perception of psychics, eccentric and stereotypically weird, he’s just an average guy with supernatural experiences that actually connect him to the dead, a gift that he describes as a curse, as he can never seem to recover from these “readings,” overly devastated by their enormous sense of loss.  My favorite part of his character is his preference for Dickens over Shakespeare, where he loves to sit and listen to read-aloud recordings of various Dickens stories.  His brother, Jay Mohr, is an irritant throughout as he’s completely clueless with a self-centered interest in exploiting George’s prowess and is perhaps even responsible for traumatizing his brother.  But Marcus is the genuine article, a troubled kid who is pulled out of his home by social services, as his mother is helplessly addicted and needs immediate treatment, leaving the poor kid in a state of isolation that is hauntingly sad.  His is the only segment that generates unending sympathy, as his sense of longing and grief is intensely believable.  He is perhaps the only real likeable person in the entire film, which descends into a gloomy maze of joyless hope, where people are turning away from the world around them and isolating themselves into a cocoon of perpetual mourning, where their brief glimpse into the world of the dead leaves them self-ostracized, solemly disconnected from all human experience, forever wandering on a vague spiritual quest for a connection with the afterlife.  

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

Matt Damon is George, a spiritualist in spite of himself in "Hereafter," and one of three people in the film who have haunting connections with the afterlife. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood's slow-paced drama has slack connections with the here and now.

This supernatural thriller, which was written by Peter Morgan, begins impressively when a tropical resort is ravaged by a tsunami. In the chaos that ensues, Marie, a TV personality on vacation from France—she's played by Cécile de France in subtitled French—has a near-death experience that qualifies her as another member of the haunted trio. The third member is the youngest, and most improbably affecting—a sweetly bleak-faced English schoolboy, Marcus (Frankie McLaren) who has recently lost his twin brother.

One problem that soon surfaces is the movie's certitude. No Turn-of-the-Screw-y ambiguities, no mind games about whether the three might share some all-too-human delusion. Either you buy their Vaseline-lensed visions of the hereafter, or you watch in stony silence, as I did, wondering why there's no one to care about. Mr. Damon brings calm intelligence to his role, and he has an agreeable encounter with Bryce Dallas Howard in a cooking class—the students take turns wearing masks and spoon-feeding one another in blind tastings. But even that scene wears out its welcome; it isn't as intimate as it promises to be, and its pace, in keeping with the movie as a whole, is insistently slow. The cast includes Marthe Keller as a celebrated student of death and not dying, and Derek Jacobi as himself, giving a reading at a London book fair. Even he seems a bit morose.

The Onion A.V. Club review [C] Nathan Rabin

When Amores Perros came out in 2000, it looked like an uncharacteristically arty variation on the spate of Pulp Fiction knock-offs that inundated video store shelves with gritty, achronological, interconnected narratives throughout the ’90s. Seen today, Amores Perros looks less like a continuation of the Tarantino boom than the beginning of a new subgenre that includes writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-ups 29 Grams and Babel as well as the Oscar-winning Crash. These films share a weakness for gimmicky structures, but also a portentous tone and a sometimes unbearable eagerness to comment on the interconnectedness of humanity and the randomness and cruelty of fate. 

Late to the party, director Clint Eastwood and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan try their hand at the interconnectedness-of-humanity subgenre with Hereafter, an ambitious, globetrotting drama about mortality, fate, and the thin line separating the dead from the living. Matt Damon stars as an unassuming young man blessed and cursed with the ability to communicate with the dead. Damon’s brother (Jay Mohr) wants to exploit his gift for commercial gain, but Damon is ambivalent at best about his special talent. Halfway around the world, meanwhile, a glamorous French television personality (Cecile De France) experiences a profound spiritual awakening following a near-death experience, and a spooky little English boy attempts to communicate with his dead twin brother. 

Morgan’s screenplays for Frost/Nixon and The Queen were clever to the point of being glib, but the hotshot screenwriter’s facility for witty dialogue abandons him here. Hereafter isn’t just unfunny; it’s positively humorless. In sharp contrast to the hyperbolic melodrama of Crash, Hereafter is hushed and understated to an almost perverse degree; it’s so sleepy it borders on narcoleptic. Eastwood develops so little momentum that when the film’s three discreet strands intersect climactically, it feels more arbitrary than revelatory. Just because a film takes place entirely in the long shadow of death doesn’t mean it has to be this relentlessly dour.

alibi.com [Devin D. O'Leary]

Who would have thought that, after decades (and decades) as Hollywood’s premier tough guy, Clint Eastwood would become such a stodgy formalist as a filmmaker? Not to insult his oeuvre or anything. Invictus, Changeling, Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Bridges of Madison County: They’re all classy pieces of old-school Hollywood cinema. Eastwood learned his lessons working for some of the finest directors in the business, and he knows how to construct a film with the best of them. But he seems more inclined toward stoic “Masterpiece Theatre”-inspired melodramas than anything with a discernible pulse.

Hereafter, Eastwood’s newest stint behind the camera, is a mature film all right. It’s constructed like something out of “This Old House,” with all the gables, beadboard wainscoting and hand-split wood-shake roofing of a master craftsman. But it’s a work of art that requires a Herculean amount of patience to get through. And I’m not so sure that patience ends up being rewarded.

The film is a Babel-inspired tapestry of story threads in which various people around the globe are linked together by the thin strands of fate. Like so many of those films, though, the characters in Hereafter aren’t bound to one another because their stories are actually, logically, realistically interconnected, but rather because of some grand, New Agey “we are all connected” conceit.

The film starts out with a famous French television journalist named Marie LeLay (Cécile de France from High Tension) on vacation in Indonesia. A sudden tsunami (a stunning sequence, it must be noted) destroys the island and nearly kills Marie, who becomes haunted by her near-death experience. Meanwhile, over in England, a young lad named Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is devastated by the accidental death of his twin brother. Finally, in San Francisco, we have poor, lonely George Lonegan (Matt Damon). Lonegan was once a world-famous psychic, capable of speaking with the dead. But a career spent dealing with unhappy ghosts and traumatized people has left him depressed and hermitlike. Now he hides from his abilities, working as a forklift operator in a warehouse.

Obviously, these three characters will cross paths at some point. Clearly, George will break out of his funk, help Marie and Marcus with their problems, and in the process ... heal his own broken heart. Sounds predictable as hell, but let’s get to it.

Unfortunately, Hereafter is in no hurry to get to that inevitable point. Clocking in at two hours and 10 minutes (and feeling like three hours and 10 minutes easily), Hereafter sets the dial to “meander.” George works at his job, argues with his brother (Jay Mohr), flirts with a cute girl (Bryce Dallas Howard), takes a cooking class at continuing education (really?) and generally bemoans his supernatural abilities. Audiences will be forgiven for wondering if George, Marie and Marcus will ever get around to crossing paths.

They do. Eventually. And for purely coincidental reasons. The script by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, Frost/Nixon) is more of a meditation than a movie. Admittedly, it’s filled with intelligent dialogue and does work up some interesting characters. It’s easy enough to sympathize with our trio of sad sacks, even if they do spend most of their time manifesting their existential angst by being terribly distracted when other people are trying to speak to them. De France is excellent. Damon is good. McLaren is OK. Howard is ... largely incidental.

The problem is that, in the end, Hereafter doesn’t seem terribly pointed. Yes, people get bummed out about death. That’s generally a given. But Hereafter doesn’t espouse any particular theological, cosmological or metaphysical point about said bummed-outedness. The film seems to hint that traditional religion is no real help, although its endorsement of the afterlife—all tunnels of light and crowds of dead relatives—seems doggedly conventional. The film also admits that most spiritualists who claim to speak with the dead are just con men. Except for the really sincere ones who aren’t. As a result, the film finds no real difference between the two. Real or fake, a clairvoyant is going to deliver the exact same message: “Your dead mother/father/brother loves you and wants you to go on with your life and be happy.” Really? Thanks for the news flash.

Pensive, contemplative and lapped by waves of melancholy, Hereafter is a worthy examination of mortality. By the same token, this is also a film that manages to be languid and lyrical even while watching a 30-foot tsunami sweep down a crowded city street. Like Babel, Crash and Syriana, Hereafter may end up being one of those highly regarded, widely celebrated Oscar winners that everybody finds too boring to actually sit through.

Slate [Dana Stevens]

There's something admirable about filmmakers who are willing to risk ridiculousness in an attempt to imagine unfilmable realms of experience: life after death, the subconscious, infancy, drug trips, dreams. Even when the experiment fails—What Dreams May Come, The Lovely Bones—the attempt to deliver the beyond has a weird nobility to it. And on the rare occasions that such films do succeed—think of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, or Michael Tolkin's haunting, underrated The Rapture—the results can be transcendent.

Clint Eastwood's Hereafter (Warner Bros.), for me, fell into the former category. Its vision of the afterlife—indistinct figures milling around in front of a white light—could have come straight from one of those basic-cable documentaries in which people recount their near-death experiences in between cheesy "re-enactments." And Eastwood's habitual preference for expounding ideas over developing characters often gives the movie the dull urgency of a tract (though it advances no religious doctrine, and indeed mentions none, with the exception of atheism). Still, I found myself cutting Hereafter break after break, thinking "OK, that scene didn't work, but let's see where he goes next." And this wasn't because I'm a particular fan of Eastwood—in my view, he's one of our most overrated living filmmakers—but because this movie's earnest dullness was part of its charm. I'm totally down with the idea of a slow-moving, somber meditation on grief, loneliness, and death, directed by an 80-year-old movie star. If only the movie had offered me more in exchange for my patience.

Hereafter's plot (the film was scripted by Peter Morgan, the British screenwriter and playwright who wrote Frost/Nixon and The Queen) proceeds according to the logic of what I've come to think of as "the Babel structure," though this kind of sprawling international narrative no doubt preceded Alejandro González Inárritu's Babel (2006). Three separate story threads—one set in San Francisco, one in Paris, and one in London—develop similar themes before finally, in Eastwood's case a good two-thirds of the way through the movie, they begin to intertwine.

The movie's opening sequence is its best, because it so matter-of-factly upends our expectations of what an Eastwood film should be. A well-known French anchorwoman, Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), vacationing in a tropical location with her lover, is out shopping for souvenirs when the beachside village is suddenly hit by a tsunami. With no warning—and, blessedly, no hokily suspenseful music—we're plunged into a disaster movie, and the victim's-eye view as Marie is hurled along by a wall of water is truly terrifying. She nearly drowns, is pulled from the water by rescuers, and just as they've given up on their resuscitation attempt, she coughs up water and returns to life. But what Marie saw during those few moments between death and life—see above, in re: vague figures milling in a white light—renders her incapable of returning to her life as the successful host of a show called Window on the Event. The only event she wants a window onto is what happened to her in that tsunami.

Meanwhile, in scenic San Francisco—every city in this movie is identified by establishing shots of its most postcard-worthy monuments—a forklift driver and retired psychic, George Lonegan (Matt Damon), is being pressured by his brother (Jay Mohr) to get back into the mind-reading business. Since childhood, George has had a gift for communicating with the dead: When he touches a person's hands, he gets a clear image of the loved one that person is mourning and the ability to transmit messages on their behalf. In fact, he's incapable of not channeling the dead, which has turned George into a lonely hermit afraid of so much as brushing up against another human being. In an attempt to rejoin the world, George takes a cooking class (taught, disconcertingly, by Steven R. Schirripa, The Sopranos' Bobby Bacala) and begins a flirtation with an enticing young classmate (Bryce Dallas Howard).

And concurrently, in London—see how long it takes to even set up the plot of this movie?—a preteen boy, Marcus (played, alternately, by twins George and Frankie McLaren) longs for his dead twin brother. When his drug-addicted mother checks into rehab, Marcus goes so far as to steal money from his foster parents to pay psychics to contact his twin. He's scammed by an series of entertainingly inept shysters, then discovers George Lonegan's now-defunct page on the Internet …

And, at long last, more than an hour into this stuff, the three stories begin to weave together—but the braid they form is maddeningly loose. The feeling of the last act is one of dispersal and fragmentation, the plot's energy slackening just when it should build. Marie wanders off to Switzerland to consult with a controversial researcher into after-death experiences (Marthe Keller). Marcus narrowly escapes a subway bombing, perhaps guided from beyond the grave by his all-seeing twin brother. And George flees San Francisco to pursue his (never adequately explained) obsession with Charles Dickens. Eventually, the paths of the three principals converge at a London book fair. I won't give away what happens when they do—except to say that the encounter between George and the grieving little boy is unexpectedly lovely, and the one between George and the anchor lady unexpectedly lame.

William Maxwell, a novelist and former fiction editor for The New Yorker, once said something simple but heartbreaking about death: "People die and then they're gone. I'll never get used to it." The characters in Hereafter are stuck at that border—the moment when someone dies, and someone else refuses to get used to it, or to give up on trying to understand where their loved one has gone. Though I found Hereafter meandering and occasionally sentimental, I couldn't help but admire Clint Eastwood's ambition in taking on—headfirst—the greatest fact of human existence.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) review [1/5]

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

TIME Magazine review  Richard Corliss

 

The House Next Door [Aaron Cutler]  interesting comments on the digital world

 

Movieline (Stephanie Zacharek) review [5.5/10]

 

The New Yorker (David Denby) review

 

Filmcritic.com  Chris Cabin

 

The Parallax Review [Mark Dujsik]

 

Cinematical (Erik Childress) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

indieWIRE (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Edward Champion

 

Sound On Sight  Kenneth Broadway

 

Slant Magazine (Nick Schager) review

The Independent Critic [Richard Propes]

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Brian Orndorf) review [3/5]  also seen here:  DVD Talk (Brian Orndorf) review [3/5]  and here:  Briandom [Brian Orndorf]

 

RopeofSilicon (Brad Brevet) review [C]

 

The Land of Eric (Eric D. Snider) review [C-]

 

About.com [Rebecca Murray]

 

CHUD.com (Nick Nunziata) review

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

filmsoundoff.com [curt schleier]

 

The L Magazine [Henry Stewart]

 

exclaim! [Naafia Mattoo]

 

Boxoffice Magazine (Vadim Rizov) review [2.5/5]

 

The Hollywood Reporter (Kirk Honeycutt) review

 

Entertainment Weekly review  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Justin Chang) review

 

Time Out New York review [2/5]  Joshua Rothkopf

 

The Independent (Kaleem Aftab) review [4/5]

 

The Globe and Mail (Liam Lacey) review

 

The Boston Phoenix (Peter Keough) review

 

Philadelphia Inquirer (Steven Rea) review [3.5/4]

 

Austin Chronicle review [2.5/5]  Marjorie Baumgarten

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic) review [4/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times review  A.O. Scott

 

J. EDGAR                                                                 C-                    67

USA  (137 mi)  2011  ‘Scope

 

I am…a revolutionary.                        —Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party, murdered by an FBI raid

 

What is overlooked here is how FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the most powerful police organization in the country, was so compelled by his reactionary beliefs to continually violate the law himself, even resort to murder in order to, in his views, protect American citizens when pursuing Black Panthers in the late 60’s, as evidenced by the December 4, 1969 assassination of Party Chairman Fred Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark in Chicago, including a cover up of the police actions, claiming they were firing in self-defense in a dawn 4:30 am FBI raid into Hampton’s private residence, supposedly to serve a warrant for a weapons violation.  According to a forensics report, 99 bullets were found entering the apartment from the outside, while only 1 bullet was ever fired from inside, hardly the barrage of “an onslaught of bullets” reported by the police to justify their actions. 

 

All the Chicago officers on the Hampton raid were vindicated, where only after a period of ten years were they finally held responsible for violating Hampton’s civil rights.  Over the course of time, this also led to the FBI revelations that they actually directed the State’s Attorney’s raid, based on diagrams provided by FBI informant William O’Neal, who was paid $30,000 by the FBI and was Hampton’s bodyguard, the man who actually provided the exact location of Fred Hampton’s bed, which was the target of the majority of the police bullets.  An autopsy also revealed that there were barbiturates found in Hampton’s stomach, who was known to be ardently drug and alcohol free, suggesting he was drugged the night before by O’Neal, who served him kool-aid and hot dogs the night before, corroborating the testimony of Hampton’s girl friend in the apartment who claimed he did not respond and remained groggy throughout the raid, only lifting his head an inch or so off the bed before he was shot and killed. 

 

Black Panthers were targeted by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI watch list as public enemy number one, calling them "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country," infiltrated by informants, oftentimes black police officers, and eventually the entire organization nationwide was hunted down and targeted for arrest and/or death “by any means necessary,” to borrow a phrase of the Panthers organization themselves.  Bobby Hutton of the Oakland branch was killed, Eldridge Cleaver fled the country, Huey P. Newton was arrested for manslaughter, H. Rap Brown for murder, and one by one the leaders were taken out in a secret FBI spy operation against American citizens called COINTELPRO that was only uncovered years later under the Freedom of Information Act.  By 1970, 34 known Panthers were dead as a result of police raids and shoot-outs, while the rising costs of legal fees eventually ended the existence of the Black Panther Party.  Hoover and his organization have never been held accountable for their own criminal illegality, which is why there continues to be a major distrust factor of police in black communities.  Informant William O’Neal eventually threw himself into the lanes of the Eisenhower expressway, committing suicide on Martin Luther King Day on 1990.  There is no mention of any of this in the film, which also neglects to mention Hoover’s active contribution to the Red Scare McCarthyist Era of the 1950’s.   

 

The film does show that from December 1963 until his death in 1968, the FBI wiretapped the phones of Reverand Martin Luther King Jr, claiming that one of King's closest advisers, Stanley Levison, a white New York lawyer and businessman, was a top-level member of the American Communist Party.  As it turned out Levison had extensive ties with the Communist Party in the 40’s and 50’s but departed from the organization by the time he met King in the early 60’s.  Nonetheless, a wiretap was ordered on October 10, 1963 making Martin Luther King Jr. the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “neutralize” him as an effective civil rights leader.  The FBI campaign to discredit and destroy Dr. King was marked by extreme personal vindictiveness, where as early as 1962 Hoover himself penned an FBI memorandum, “King is no good,” claiming Dr. King was “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” Shortly afterwards in 1963, Time magazine chose Dr. King as the “Man of the Year,” and later in 1964 he won the Nobel peace prize, an honor which elicited Hoover's comment that “they had to dig deep in the garbage to come up with this one,” calling Dr. King the “most notorious liar” in the country.

 

The FBI scrutinized Dr. King's tax returns, monitored his sexual and financial affairs, and even tried to establish that he had a secret foreign bank account.  Religious leaders and institutions were contacted in an effort to undermine their support of him, and unfavorable material was “leaked” to the press. Bureau officials contacted members of Congress, and special “off the record” testimony was prepared for Hoover's use before the House Appropriations Committee.  Efforts were made to turn White House and Justice Department Officials against Dr. King by barraging them with unfavorable reports and, according to one witness, even offering to play for a White House official explicit sex tape recordings that the Bureau considered embarrassing to King, tapes that just happened to be delivered to Dr. King with threats of greater public exposure the night before his Nobel Prize speech.  Despite extensive surveillance, the FBI was never able to portray King as a dangerous radical or find any direct funding or other links between King and the Communist party.

 

This film, easily one of the ugiest looking films ever seen (in more ways than one), written by Dustin Lance Black, who also wrote MILK (2008), is largely taken from Hoover’s own 1972 memoirs which he dictates throughout the film accentuating a more tender side of Hoover, Leonardo DiCaprio in a horrible accent, not just a ruthless, powerful man in America who rose to the directorship of the FBI from 1935 until his death in 1972.  It was only after he died that America learned Hoover was a cross dresser, a closet homosexual, who may have repressed his lifelong love affair with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), the Associate Director of the FBI from 1930 until just after Hoover died in 1972, the man who inherited Hoover’s estate after he died, which amounted to a little more than half a million dollars and Hoover’s home.  Ironically Hoover was outspoken against homosexuality and refused to allow gays, women, and very few blacks to become FBI agents, and in fact spread defamatory false rumors that Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson was gay.  And while these personal revelations may be salaciously interesting, they prove to be something of a distraction, and pure speculation, where adding a vulnerable and more humanized dimension to his personality, a secretly repressed love affair that Hoover never publicly acknowledged during his lifetime, and for which there is no corroborating evidence, has a way of diverting attention away from the corrupt ruthlessness in which he ran his office, known for blackmailing Presidents, threatening to expose and ruin the careers of anyone who would dare attempt to challenge him, surviving largely unscathed in his own personal domain as head of the FBI, remaining outside of public scrutiny for 37 years, collecting and consolidating power in his office long after a series of Presidents came and went. 

 

Placing the focus on Hoover’s love life takes away from the fact that this man singlehandedly destroyed lives throughout his lifetime, altering the possibilities of social change in history, where the damage he caused in arrests, murder, and intimidation was far greater than that of any terrorist, where he was the man in charge of all the slimy, underhanded dirty tricks and lies, which Hoover felt was far more effective than the truth, used to undermine the reputations and public effectiveness of others, yet he remained in charge of the nation’s highest law officers, continuing to collect information that he could use “against” others in his own private crusade on public decency, an unchecked monster that himself became that threat to the internal security of our nation, an embarrassing stain in the nation’s history that this film steers clear of because Hoover led the fight against Communism in America and continues to be lauded in right wing circles as a patriot.  A dull and drab Clint Eastwood movie that fictionalizes certain aspects of his life is no substitute for the real thing, which would be an exposé that reveals the truth about just what the man was responsible for in his lifetime, revealing all the skeletons in the closet.  Despite modernizing crime fighting technology, such as creating a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories, he also used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and routinely used illegal methods to collect evidence.  There were no Black Panthers and no one from the King family offering their views on how this lone man dedicated his life to work tirelessly not only to discredit the hopes and dreams of others and the movements they advocated, but ultimately he vowed to literally destroy lives.  In 2001, Nevada Senator Harry Reid sponsored an amendment to strip Hoover's name from the FBI Headquarters named after him in Washington, D.C. claiming “J. Edgar Hoover's name on the FBI building is a stain on the building,” however the Senate never adopted the amendment.

 

Review: J. Edgar - Reviews - Boston Phoenix  Gerald Peary

Filmmaker Clint Eastwood, famously Republican, portrays right-wing hero J. Edgar Hoover, the late FBI head, as a self-aggrandizing, conniving bully and mama's boy who broke the law whenever he wanted to bring anyone down. Leonardo DiCaprio has the unenviable task of playing a character without a single redeeming feature. He's good as the little merde, though the film itself wobbles from boring bio scenes to effective political history to embarassingly miscast actors playing Bobby Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) and Richard Nixon (Christopher Shyer). The script by Dustin Lance Black (Milk) is overwritten, with characters lecturing Hoover about his misdeeds, as if we can't figure them out ourselves. Black does offer a lot of time to the closeted relationship of Hoover and his second-in-command, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). There's little doubt of their gayness, though we don't know if they actually have sex or just hold hands a lot.

exclaim! [Allan Tong]

J. Edgar Hoover was once the most powerful man in America. Wiretapping private conversations, the FBI chief blackmailed U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy. He pathologically surveilled Martin Luther King, whom he considered a communist, took credit for high-profile busts he had nothing to do with and shamelessly promoted himself on radio, movies and even breakfast cereal boxes.

It's tough to make a 140-minute film about a character so despicable he'd make Dick Cheney blush, but director Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) inject Hoover with a touch of humanity: his lifelong affair with his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson. Armie Hammer (the twins in The Social Network) steals scenes from Leonardo DiCaprio (Hoover) by bringing out a bit of vulnerability. Their dysfunctional love story binds together two eras of Hoover's life: the Depression, when he fought bootleggers, and the '60s, when he persecuted the Kennedys and King. Without that relationship, J. Edgar would be unbearable.

Naomi Watts does well with the two-dimensional Helen Gandy, Hoover's faithful secretary. However, we never learn why she stuck by him for nearly 50 years. Judi Dench excels as Hoover's overbearing mother, who in one show-stopping scene tells him straight on that she'd rather have a dead son than a "daffodil."

Tom Stern's desaturated cinematography drains the film of joy, which perfectly mirrors Hoover's repressed inner life. In fact, nearly the entire film is told through Hoover's narcissistic recollections, which allows us to bounce around time ― credit the make-up department for making the characters so believable as they age.

Fortunately, Eastwood and Black condemn Hoover for the bully he was, yet somehow portray him as a human being.

J. Edgar | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club   Tasha Robinson

The trouble with biopics is the overwhelming pressure to shape a subject’s story into a neat arc, where a defining characteristic in the first act leads to a predictable uplift or downfall in the third. This approach never does justice to human complexity, and it only rarely does justice to a film. In the case of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, the attempt to accordion J. Edgar Hoover’s 50-plus years with the FBI (including in its nascent stages, before it was called that) into two hours offers snapshots of many Hoovers without exploring any of them. Eastwood’s prim, respectful biography presents Hoover in turn as a muddy political metaphor, a lesson in self-mythologizing, and a case history in repression, but never particularly as a man.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hoover, seen alternately as a Department Of Justice up-and-comer and a fat-suited seventysomething, framing the film by dictating his life story to a series of interlocutors who ask polite questions on the audience’s behalf. A puritanical, humorless, driven man even in his 20s, he sets standards few can meet, whether he’s helping reorganize the Library Of Congress or recreating the newly defined FBI in his own image, via anti-radical pogroms and innovations in forensic science. Like Dubya in Oliver Stone’s W., he’s largely defined by his desire to please a controlling, withholding parent (Judi Dench); in particular, a key line from her about how she’d rather have a dead son than a gay one defines his lifelong undercurrent-laden-but-chaste relationship with fellow FBI administrator Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

In his script, Dustin Lance Black (Milk) hits some key milestones in Hoover’s life, particularly the Lindbergh-baby kidnapping, but he only defines Hoover in reaction to his mother and his era, and he never bridges the gap between the idealistic youth and the blackmailing politico. DiCaprio isn’t much help; he’s often compelling, but he rarely gets to clarify Hoover’s emotions or intentions. There’s obvious contemporary political relevance in many of Hoover’s offhanded statements—say, his conviction that it’s worth pursuing anyone who might commit crimes—and some more universal lessons toward the end of the film, where the gap between reality and his self-image becomes clear. But the gap between this nicely shot, neatly gift-wrapped package and messy human reality feels equally wide.

Internal Affairs  Were J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson lovers? by Beverly Gage from Slate, November 10, 2011

In one of the climactic moments of the new film J. Edgar, a thirtysomething J. Edgar Hoover reveals his plans to take a wife. The scene unfolds in a New York hotel suite, where Hoover has reserved adjoining rooms with Clyde Tolson, his second-in-command at the FBI. Tolson responds with rage to his boss’s news, throwing a temper tantrum at odds with his typically polished demeanor. The argument soon escalates into a fistfight, then into the film’s single most sexual moment: a bloody kiss between the director and associate director of the FBI.

There is no evidence that this fight—much less the kiss—ever took place. What we know about the relationship between Hoover and Tolson comes mostly from the public record: meals together twice a day, joint vacations, a final burial place just a few yards apart. Their interior and sexual lives remain mostly a matter of speculation. Despite daunting research efforts by journalists and historians, we can say little more today than we could four or five decades ago: Hoover and Tolson had a marriage of sorts. But what sort of marriage was it?

J. Edgar’s scriptwriter, Dustin Lance Black, had the luxury of imagining the answer to this question, depicting Hoover and Tolson’s relationship as a tragic precursor to today’s sanctioned gay marriages. The film focuses on their interpersonal drama, conjuring up intimate dinner-table powwows and anguished personal struggles. (For the record: Yes, Hoover loved his mama. No, there is no evidence that he put on her necklace and dress in the hours after her death.)

And yet it is Hoover and Tolson’s public life—the stuff we do know about—that is ultimately the most fascinating part of their story. They never openly acknowledged a sexual or romantic relationship. At the same time, they demanded—and received—a level of respect for their partnership that seems almost unthinkable in pre-Stonewall society. For some four decades, the crème de la crème of political America treated them as a recognized couple; when Edgar was invited to dinner, so was Clyde. We don’t have to make up their most intimate scenes to find a relationship worth exploring.

Hoover and Tolson met sometime in the late 1920s—perhaps, though not definitively, at the Mayflower Hotel bar as suggested in one of J. Edgar’s early scenes. In early 1928, Tolson signed on as a Bureau agent, one of many handsome young George Washington fraternity men recruited in Hoover’s early days as director. His career took off immediately. By 1931, Tolson was assistant director of the Bureau, charged with enforcing Hoover’s famously nitpicking internal policies.

Swift promotion was not particularly unique at the early Bureau; when Hoover found men he liked, he brought them up fast. What made Tolson stand out was the highly public friendship he soon developed with his boss. By the mid-1930s, Tolson was at Hoover’s side for every major Washington outing, from Bureau baseball games to White House affairs. As the FBI gained fame for running down kidnappers and bank robbers (a story rendered almost wholly out of chronological sequence in J. Edgar), Tolson usually accompanied Hoover to New York as well. There, they became fixtures of gossip columnist Walter Winchell’s rarefied Stork Club circle, hobnobbing with the likes of boxer Jack Dempsey and Broadway author Damon Runyon. On one fairly typical night in 1935, they joined Winchell in the press section at a Dempsey fight only to end the evening watching a brawl involving Ernest Hemingway.

Their own brawl in J. Edgar takes places sometime during this period, evoking the erotically charged world of café society as a backdrop for Hoover and Tolson’s grand confrontation. Many of the scene’s other elements are similarly based in fact. Hoover did have a headline-grabbing and certainly false romance with film star Dorothy Lamour, his candidate for wifehood in J. Edgar. He also had a rumored—and equally unlikely—affair with Ginger Rogers’ mother Lela, depicted as the confident older woman trying to muscle Hoover onto the dance floor in one of the film’s nightclub scenes.

For the most part, though, Hoover simply opted out of the marriage-and-children game. He loved to give advice on the subject, publishing preachy newspaper columns and speeches on “The Parent Problem” and “The Man I Want My Son To Be.” But he never seriously entertained the idea of starting a family, and his few dates with women seem to be nothing more than a nod to social convention. In retrospect, it seems astonishing how little he actually did to maintain a heterosexual facade. From his first moments at the Bureau, he surrounded himself with young men, and his loyalties never wavered.

This produced the predictable Washington gossip. As early as the 1930s, local columnists had begun to titter about Hoover’s “mincing step” and fondness for natty suits. By the late 1960s, at least one congressman was allegedly threatening to out Hoover and Tolson on the House floor, retaliation for unrelated backroom shenanigans. Hoover could be merciless in such situations. Throughout his career, he regularly sent FBI agents to track down citizens unwise enough to suggest that he was “queer.” He also cooperated in the postwar Lavender Scare, when hundreds of gay men and women lost their federal jobs as security risks. (Oddly, J. Edgar entirely skips this period of Hoover’s life, despite its jaw-droppingly rich sexual complexity.)

Hoover’s attempts to strong-arm his critics fit our image of him as a ruthless power-monger, and of the pre-Stonewall era as a time of brutal anti-gay repression. Far more difficult to reconcile with this image is the acceptance that Hoover and Tolson seemed to find—at exactly the same time—in the highest reaches of New York and Washington society. Despite the rumors of their homosexuality, they conducted a vibrant and open social partnership throughout their years together, accepting joint dinner invitations, attending family functions, even signing the occasional thank-you note together.

Friends and political associates knew to treat them as a bona fide couple. In the 1930s, for instance, Hoover and Tolson hit the town with Broadway star Ethel Merman and Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley, busy conducting their own illicit affair. By the 1950s, the two men were double-dating with Dick and Pat Nixon, whom Hoover had met while pursuing the case against Alger Hiss. “I did want to drop you this personal note to let you know how sorry Clyde and I are that we were unable to join Pat and you for lunch today,” Hoover wrote to Vice President Nixon after one failed invitation in 1958. On another occasion, Nixon suggested that Clyde—“our favorite bartender”—ought to learn to make the mean if unspecified pink cocktail that they all had often enjoyed together.

Such exchanges evoke nothing so much as the formal world of 1950s married life, one set of spouses trading entertaining tips and social niceties with the other. But did these friends actually view Hoover and Tolson as a romantic and sexual couple? In recent decades, many acquaintances—including Ethel Merman—have claimed that they “knew” about Hoover and Tolson. But it’s hard to say if this is posthumous speculation or accurate insider knowledge. Nixon famously referred to Hoover as a “cocksucker”—a suggestive word, but one that may or may not be referring to Hoover’s sex life. In the press, Hoover and Tolson were most often described as “bachelors,” a term that served simultaneously as a euphemism and as a straightforward description of an unmarried heterosexual man. At the FBI, acquaintances consistently denied anything other than a close friendship.

It is easy to write off the more open aspects of Hoover and Tolson’s relationship as proof of old-fashioned naiveté—to assume that folks in the 1950s were unaware. But this gives the people of the past far too little credit and flattens out an intriguing social history. If Hoover’s story tells us anything, it’s that today’s binaries—gay vs. straight, closeted vs. out—map uneasily onto the sexual past. Hoover and Tolson were many things at once: professional associates, golf buddies, Masonic brothers, and possibly lovers as well.

At the very least, they were caring social partners, relying on each other for emotional sustenance and daily support that went beyond the realm of ordinary friendship. J. Edgar closes with Tolson clutching a love letter to Eleanor Roosevelt from journalist Lorena Hickok, now widely seen as one of Roosevelt’s several romantic interests. But Tolson might as well have been reading a letter from his own FBI personnel file, which contains one of the few personal missives that have survived decades of purging and obfuscation.

“Words are mere man-given symbols for thoughts and feelings, and they are grossly insufficient to express the thoughts in my mind and the feelings in my heart that I have for you,” Hoover wrote to Tolson in 1943. “I hope I will always have you beside me.”

Salon.com [Andrew O,Hehir]

 

The New Yorker [David Denby]

 

J. Edgar Review: Life in a Vacuum - Pajiba  Daniel Carlson

 

Great Man Theories: Clint Eastwood on J. Edgar ... - Village Voice  J. Hoberman

 

The House Next Door [Glenn Heath Jr.]

 

AFI FEST Review: Unfocused 'J. Edgar' - Film School Rejects  Kate Erbland

 

New York Magazine [David Edelstein]

 

Movieline [Stephanie Zacharek]

 

Slant Magazine [Jaime N. Christley]

 

Review: Leonardo DiCaprio in Eastwoods J. Edgar offers easy - HitFix  Drew McWeeny

 

J. Edgar reviewed - Slate Magazine  Dana Stevens

 

DVD Verdict [Michael Stailey]

 

Screen Rant [Ben Kendrick]

 

Filmcritic.com  Bill Gibron

 

Film Freak Central Review [Angelo Muredda]

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

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J. Edgar : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical  Jason Bailey

 

DustinPutman.com [Dustin Putman]

 

www.screenspotlight.com [Jonathan Jacobs]

 

Combustible Celluloid Review - J. Edgar (2011), Clint Eastwood ...  Jeffrey M. Anderson

 

ReelTalk [Diana Saenger]

 

FILM REVIEW: J. Edgar - Things That Go Pop! - CBC.ca  Eli Glasner

 

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J. Edgar | Review | Screen - Screen International  Mike Goodridge

 

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Oscar Prospects: J. Edgar | The House Next Door  R. Kurt Osenlund

 

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Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood's 'J. Edgar ... - New York Times  Brooks Barnes interviews the actor from The New York Times, November 2, 2011

 

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J Edgar – review  Andrew Pulver from The Guardian, November 30, 2011

 

J. Edgar – review  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, January 19, 2012

 

J Edgar a visionary? Don't believe it  Alex von Tunzelmann from The Guardian, February 2, 2012

 

J. Edgar – review  Philip French from The Observer, January 21, 2012

 

'Edgar' worth investigating - BostonHerald.com  James Verniere

 

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Critic Review for J. Edgar on washingtonpost.com  Ann Hornaday

 

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J. Edgar :: rogerebert.com ... - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times

 

'J. Edgar,' Starring Leonardo DiCaprio ... - Movies - New York Times

 

Dirty Harry Meets Dirtier Edgar - NYTimes.com - New York Times  Maureen Dowd, November 12, 2011

 

J. Edgar Hoover - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Clyde Tolson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

COINTELPRO - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

How Hoover’s FBI Spied on the White House and Counterculture Alike  Tim Weiner from Slate, February 29, 2012

 

Martin Luther King Jr. FBI Files  3165 pages of FBI files

 

FBI's Complete File on Martin Luther King, Jr. - We Are Change Seattle  all 16,659 pages

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Case Study - ICDC   Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book III, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities United States Senate, April 23, 1976

 

The FBI's Vendetta Against Martin Luther King, Jr. from the book The ...  The FBI's Vendetta Against Martin Luther King, Jr, excerpted from the book The Lawless State, The Crimes of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies, by Morton Halperin, Jerry Berman, Robert Borosage, Christine Marwick, 1976

 

The FBI and Martin Luther King - Magazine - The Atlantic  David J. Garrow from The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2002

 

FBI tracked King's every move - CNN  Jen Christensen from CNN News, March 31, 2008

 

Fred Hampton - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

FBI — Fred Hampton  FBI Records on Fred Hampton

 

"The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago ...  Democracy Now

 

The Last Hours of William O'Neal | Our Town | Chicago Reader  Michael Ervin, January 25, 1990

 

Nothing but a Northern Lynching: The Death of Fred Hampton ...  Susan Rutberg from The Huffington Post, December 4, 2009

 

JERSEY BOYS                                                       C                     75

USA  (134 mi)  2014  ‘Scope                 Official site

 

As someone who never much liked Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons when they were incessantly overplayed on the radio in the 60’s and 70’s, where it always sounded like they had a “produced” rather than a natural sound, it would be a challenge to sit through yet another disappointing Clint Eastwood film since MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004), a few of which have been among the worst films in this director’s career.  The Four Seasons were the epitome of mass marketing, viewed as old-fashioned and square, the kind of Lawrence Welk schmaltz and sentimentality that even your grandmother could enjoy, where live performances included few spontaneous moments and were identical to the radio sound, as there was little actual performance in an era that featured some of the greatest performers in pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues history, where the sheer unconventionality of these artists broke from the suffocatingly conformist chains of the 50’s, an era when performers simply stood at a microphone and sang in tune.  Compare that to Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Eric Burdon, Jimi Hendrix, or Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who all revolutionized the stage performance.  Nonetheless, adapted from the writing team that produced the Tony Award winning 2005 Broadway musical that won Best Musical, with John Lloyd Young (now at age 38, where his character ranges from a teenager to the father of a teenager, also winning a Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical) in the lead role of Frankie Valli as the sole original Broadway performer to be featured in the movie, the film is largely a recreation of the theatrical conception.  This is what’s commonly known in the trade as a moneymaker, a “can’t lose” proposition given to an A-list director, while the investors then sit around and wait for the cash dollars to come rolling in.  That’s been the story of this theatrical production from the outset, costing $7.8 million dollars to produce on Broadway in November 2005, recouping all of their investments by the following June, where 9-years later the show continues to average $715,000 per week in grosses, where the weekly running costs are only about $400,000, which is low by Broadway standards, passing over $1.7 billion dollars in worldwide grosses earlier this year, where there are no announced plans to end its New York run.  Frankie Valli and his songwriter Bob Gaudio have earned $4.1 million dollars so far on the Broadway production alone, as well as a steady stream of revenue from their musical royalties, where early in their careers they inked contracts where they take 6% of the music’s net profits.  And now, the movie, which is wall-to-wall songs, nearly every one a similar looking set piece, which is cheap, easy to construct, assemble a cast, and shoot, which just earns more money into the hands of the investors.  All of this sounds like the Hollywood cash cow business formula, having little if anything to do with cinema itself.  But this typifies what the movies have become—a successful business product.

 

From the opening thirty seconds, one is immediately less than impressed to the point of being maddened by the look of the film, shot by Tom Stern, who has worked with Eastwood on every film since BLOOD WORK (2002), as the desaturated look has the color faded out, leaving the picture looking dull and lifeless, while every street scene, with every speck of dirt washed away, also resembles the look of a movie set, mostly shot on the Warner Brothers backlot, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to reality.  This deglamorization detracts from the showbiz glitz that is otherwise accentuated throughout, which is basically a trip down memory lane, where the musical production is a showpiece for the Frankie Valli songbook that is heard throughout, with each song sounding so similar, where they even make fun of this criticism early in their rise to success, calling the songs “derivatives,” unoriginal, but copies of similar sounding hit songs.  Apparently the fascination is not so much with the actual voice itself, but with Young recreating the swooning falsetto of Frankie Valli, which was all the rage in soul music in the 60’s and 70’s, like Sam Cooke A Change Is Gonna Come -- Sam Cooke (Original Version in HD YouTube (3:15), Smokey Robinson & the Miracles Smokey Robinson - The Tracks Of My Tears Live (1965) on ...  YouTube (3:05), Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions Gypsy Woman - YouTube (2:20), Eddie Kendricks from the Temptations JUST MY IMAGINATION (1971)- THE TEMPTATIONS YouTube (2:41), or the Isley Brothers ISLEY BROTHERS LAY LADY LAY.wmv - YouTube (10:21), but also Roy Orbison Roy Orbison - In Dreams - YouTube (2:54), Del Shannon Del Shannon - Runaway (Rare Stereo Version) - YouTube (2:20), and Barry Gibb with the Bee Gees Bee Gees _ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart ('71) HQ ... YouTube (3:56), where the sound is so uniquely distinctive that listeners often can’t tell if the singer is black or white.  Coming from the Doo Wop tradition of the late 40’s and 50’s, the term originated in the early 60’s, getting its origins from four guys singing a cappella on the street corner while harmonizing, where the lead falsetto voice was a must, like Little Anthony and the Imperials, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, or Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, often taking advantage of a young teen singer’s natural adolescent voice before it matures through puberty, at which point that singer’s career was over by the time they turned twenty (which thankfully never happened with Michael Jackson).  The 60’s were perhaps the golden age of the falsetto in pop and rock music, where hearing falsetto voices was common, while today practitioners would include Prince, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Bono of U2, Chris Martin of Coldplay, or Justin Timberlake.  Frankie Valli is certainly one of the best mainstream pop singers to legitimize the falsetto, where you could hit the high notes while still expressing a masculine feeling of love or defiance.  While he sounds a bit tinny and screeching at times, the group broke into the music scene with Valli’s indisputable sound, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - Sherry ( 1962 YouTube (2:34), the first of a string of #1 hits.   

 

Recreated by screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, Brickman is a former head writer of the Tonight Show (1969—70), also Woody Allen’s writer for ANNIE HALL (1977), MANHATTAN (1979), and MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993).  There are some extremely funny, drop dead laughter moments, most generated by Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo, easily the best thing in the film as the local mobster, where according to one of his underlings, local hood Tommy Devito (Vincent Piazza), “If you’re from my neighborhood, you got three ways out:  You could join the army.  You could get mobbed up.  Or—you could become a star,” where for this group, “it was two out of three.”  Set in an Italian-American town of Bellevue, just outside of Newark, Jersey, where Frankie was actually born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, a kid with a voice, the depiction of the mob, however, couldn’t be more sugar coated, where Gyp loves Frankie’s voice to the point of tears when he sings “My Mother’s Eyes” My Mother's Eyes by Frankie Valli (Valley, Vally) - YouTube (3:26) (“That was my mother’s favorite song,”), so he does what he can to protect him, literally offering his services out of the goodness of his heart (only in the movies), as if it’s his responsibility to look after this kid and keep him out of harm’s way.  When local punks and hoods get jail time (including their founder and lead guitarist), in this film prison is a home away from home, where they greet everyone with a smile, even the guards, where everyone asks about the family, where it’s more a family reunion than a prison sentence.  This sanitized version accounts for why little of this criminal record was known about the Four Seasons before the Broadway production, where it likely would have impacted their early years, as record companies might have refused to play their records.  This part of Jersey’s history, which was the major emphasis in David O. Russell’s American Hustle (2013), is simply used for jokes here, suggesting it’s normal for kids get into a little trouble in their youth, but they straighten it all out by the time they become adults.  Of interest, it’s not Frankie, but Vincent Piazza as bad-boy Tommy DeVito that runs the show for most of the picture, playing the swaggering founder of the group, whose loud mouth, obnoxious personality, and lack of business sense gets the band into a deep hole financially, spending the rest of their careers paying off the debt.  So when he steps aside, the vanilla character of Frankie Valli is so underdeveloped that the movie falters without the interest of a mob connection.  All attempts to revive a dysfunctional family fail miserably, so without much of a story, the only thing that matters throughout are the songs. 

 

An amusing anecdote is Frankie and the Four Seasons actually performed in prison for the real-life Gyp after he was handed a 12-year sentence in 1970, where there were strong intimations that his onscreen persona should be portrayed “respectfully,” where the choice of Christopher Walken must be criminal royalty.  Additionally, Joseph Russo’s depiction of Joe Pesci as just one of the boys from the neighborhood comes across reverentially, as if he’s waiting in the wings to gladhand all the patrons after the show, flashing that big smile.  Also amusing is an Eastwood nod to himself in showing Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) watching TV, which turns out to be a clip of the young actor Eastwood half a century ago on the television show Rawhide (1959—65).  While the direction is utterly conventional, shooting a cavalcade of hits as one set piece after another of the group singing onstage to yet another thrilled audience somewhere, anywhere, which is like watching a Vegas act, where one of the most unnerving aspects is when, at different stages throughout the film, each member of the Four Seasons speaks straight into the camera, telling the story of the group by talking directly to the audience, as they do in the theatrical version, the difference being on stage there’s a connection to the songs, while here’s it’s just disconnected talk that gets lost as extraneous material.  Once they get going, however, the endless blur of Frankie Valli hits just keeps coming, where this may be music to the ears of some, perhaps reaching a crescendo with the performance of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” Can't Take My Eyes off You - Frankie Valli and The 4 ... YouTube (3:45), but the only break in the entire picture was a road performance by an all-female group, The Angel’s, singing “My Boyfriend’s Back” Angels - My Boyfriend's Back - YouTube (2:09), which felt like a revelation.  The film is a bit lackluster and overlong, despite Eastwood cutting out several of the songs, and runs out of steam, where eventually it all looks and feels the same, with John Lloyd Young channeling Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER (1972) by the end of the picture, with a celebratory Coke advertising style dancing-in-the-streets medley over the closing credits that features every character in the film, a style put to better use by Ellen DeGeneres in her Oscars trailer Oscars® Trailer: Ellen DeGeneres - YouTube (1:00), perhaps originating in Marc Webb’s (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009) with Hall & Oates 500 Days Of Summer - You Make My Dreams - YouTube  (2:00), where what’s missing is the urgency and sense of vitality that exists onstage in the live theatrical performance.   

 

Jersey Boys | review, synopsis, book tickets ... - Time Out  Keith Uhlich

Imagine ‘Goodfellas’ without much in the way of stakes, and you’ll get Clint Eastwood’s pleasingly square and forgettable adaptation of the award-winning jukebox musical, which charts the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Like the stage show, the story is told through the eyes of each of the band members – Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) – each talking directly to camera. It’s a half-arsed gimmick that Eastwood and his screenwriters deploy haphazardly (Valli doesn’t even get his turn until the dewy-eyed final scene). This fits the mood of the movie, though, which comes off like one of those meandering reminiscences you indulge in during a family get-together.

The band has a colourful history that involves money mismanagement, mob ties (Christopher Walken bringing his inimitable style to gangster Gyp DeCarlo) and even actor Joe Pesci (Joseph Russo), who was instrumental in introducing keyboardist Gaudio to the group. Yet Eastwood directs each scene with a creaky monotony that nullifies most of the drama. Even when the characters ratchet up the colourful mob insults or the film shifts back and forth in time, things feel sleepy and sedate.

That leaves the musical performances of hits like ‘Walk Like a Man’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ to pick up the slack (it was a good move to hang on to Tony-winning actor Young as the angel-voiced Valli). Neither the creaky aesthetic nor laughable old-age makeup hampers Young’s charm and charisma. He makes the music come alive despite the cinematic embalming.

Georgia Straight [Janet Smith]

C’mon Clint: have a little fun, why don’t ya? Eastwood’s take on four hoodlums who escape Jersey by singing bubblegum love songs is surprisingly colourless. Then again, Unforgiven and J. Edgar could hardly have trained him for this brand of fizzy soda pop.

In the director’s hands, the song-and-dance-pumped Broadway hit Jersey Boys becomes a passable but tediously predictable portrait of band conflict. Like the musical, Eastwood’s film finds the members of the Four Seasons each addressing the audience directly with the story of Frankie Valli’s rise to teen idol. But they inhabit a grimly realistic ’50s and ’60s shot in desaturated hues. Gone are the musical’s dozens of catchy songs: here we get a handful of hits like “Sherry”, with the only one that taps any real energy in the film’s last, climactic showstopper.

There’s a strange incongruity between this plodding realism and the script’s over-the-top stageyness. The movie Mamma Mia was giddy enough that we might have believed a trio could read music over a composer’s shoulder for the first time and sing it in perfect four-part harmony. Here, when budding composer Bob Gaudio shows the guys his sheet music and they pull it off flawlessly it feels forced because of the tone. Scenes of uniformly grinning audiences swooning to Valli’s falsetto make you long for the deadpan silence of the concert scenes in Inside Llewyn Davis.

Things aren’t all bad. Christopher Walken brings a bit of insanity to the benevolent mob boss who takes Frankie under his wing. And Mike Doyle is flamboyantly hilarious as producer Bob Crewe.

The Broadway star of Jersey Boys, John Lloyd Young, takes the lead here, and while he can reach the high notes, his character’s dull. Vincent Piazza fares better as the Four Season’s swaggering bad-boy Tommy DeVito. The women are throwaways, though, whether it’s the wives left at home or the girlfriends who revolve through the hotel rooms. In fact, it’s difficult to invest in any of the relationships here. Eastwood seems to want to shoehorn it all in—the good, the bad, and the ugly—when most of the audience is probably just there for the matching red velvet jackets and doo-wop.

The Film Stage [Danny King]

On the one hand, Clint Eastwood‘s stage-to-screen adaptation of Jersey Boys is an exercise in Broadway fidelity: rather than re-cast the project with established movie-star personalities, the director chose to fill out three of the four primary roles with actors who performed in the show’s original Broadway tour. Furthermore, according to an interview with Scott Foundas, Eastwood passed over a screenplay from veteran writer John Logan (Rango, Skyfall) in favor of a draft penned by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who authored the original Broadway book. (Unlike Logan’s draft, Brickman and Elice’s script retains the fourth-wall-breaking gambit of the stage show.) On the other hand, Eastwood’s clear intention to abide by the stage show is undermined by the implementation of his late-period aesthetic, which sacrifices bright, bursting lights and concert-show spirit for musky rooms and cinematographer Tom Stern‘s arsenal of classical shadows, dusty greys, and deep browns.

The result is a film that, while perhaps underwhelming as a whole (and certainly something that won’t convert any latter-day Eastwood skeptics), still contains numerous pockets of interest. Consider, for instance, the wonderful fun Eastwood has toying with the various direct-to-camera addresses. At first, it appears that the actors’ sidebar narrations are conventional: tough-guy Tommy DeVito (Boardwalk Empire‘s Vincent Piazza), who is saddled with the majority of the fourth-wall responsibility, simply walks and talks to the audience, the camera tracking with him as he offers brief exposition and local New Jersey color. Eastwood replicates this set-up so methodically that, whenever a scene is introduced with a single character, we are triggered to expect a bit of transitional narration to occur. But Eastwood flips the trick on a number of occasions, as in a late scene, where a private rant by Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) suddenly turns into a two-person conversation when it’s revealed that his girlfriend (Erica Piccininni) is packing her suitcase in the next room. (A similar effect is achieved in an earlier scene that begins with Tommy combing his hair in front of a mirror.)

Eastwood’s decision to keep multiple actors from the Broadway tour is also revealing, considering the director’s well-known preference for quick, efficient shoots that rarely accommodate more than one or two takes per set-up. (“You’ve got people who’ve done 1,200 performances; how much better can you know a character?,” Eastwood states in the Foundas interview.) Needless to say, however, performing Jersey Boys on stage is radically different from performing it on a Clint Eastwood set, and though the Broadway holdovers—in addition to Young, there’s Erich Bergen (as songwriter Bob Gaudio) and Michael Lomenda (as bass player Nick Massi)—make good on their musical talent, they are altogether more stiff and uncomfortable when it comes down to the nuts-and-bolts of a dramatic conversation or altercation. This is especially true of Young, a 38-year-old man who, when the film begins in 1951 in Belleville, New Jersey, has practically no chance in the world of convincing us that he’s a 16-year-old kid who drinks milk with his spaghetti at the family dinner table. (Piazza, the lone Four Seasons player with no connection to the Broadway show, is by far the most charismatic and energetic of the principals.)

On a narrative level, the movie spends a lot of time setting up a framework of working-class New Jersey brotherhood before delving into the jukebox-musical structure that paves the way for renditions of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” etc. The downside of this choice is that, though the emotional dynamic among the four members is clear and promising—with Gaudio’s well-bred roots making him an intriguing outsider in the group—the narrative developments and rise-and-fall mood swings that populate the rest of the film are simply too demanding for Eastwood’s modest production scale to handle. Considering the amount of plot on display here—the movie begins in 1951, and ends in 1990 (with some shoddy old-age make-up that J. Edgar detractors will surely pounce on)—it’s insane to think that the production budget of Jersey Boys, at $40 million, is only $7 million more than Gran Torino‘s $33 million. (Similarly, Changeling—which, like Jersey Boys, is a period piece with about six plots squeezed into one movie—cost $55 million.) This out-of-whack relationship between subject matter and scale—the plots are getting bigger, while the budgets are staying relatively in the same ballpark—accounts for much of the uneven scene work that plagues Jersey Boys.

This is made clear most glaringly through the film’s female characters, starting with Frankie’s first wife, Mary (Renée Marino). It’s possible to portray a relationship like this with diligent, useful economy (especially in an ensemble picture that, by nature, requires such brevity), but here, with the relationship dubiously jumping from one interval to the next—first-date flirting, marriage, Mary’s alcoholism—it’s impossible to get a grip on how these characters relate to each other and what their relationship means. Frankie’s relationship with his troubled daughter suffers from a similar fault: at one point, she’s a background presence that barely even registers; at another, she’s suddenly one of the emotional cores of Frankie’s arc.

Even with these missteps noted, the movie is a pleasure to look at: Eastwood and production designer James J. Murakami‘s sense of place is phenomenal, from the shiny red booths of a diner to the paper-filled offices where Frankie and the Four Seasons duel over contract disputes and personal rivalries. (Two days removed from seeing the film, I still remember a cup of pencils sitting on a desk in one of those offices—even in scenes as short as that one, Eastwood populates the frame with small details and objects that are breaths of fresh air.) And there are moments, too, where Eastwood breaks out of his prestige-drama bubble and offers surprising spurts of energy: the closing-credits curtain-call; a speedy dash up the front of the Brill Building; numerous references to films of the day, from The Blob to Ace in the Hole; a “Hitchcock moment” where Eastwood appears on television as a character watches Rawhide; and, in what might be the film’s best scene, a humorous full shot of a room of men, each of them with a large glass of red wine, preparing to settle a debt in the mansion of a gangster (a delightful Christopher Walken).

Alt Film Guide [Tim Cogshell]

 

World Socialist Web Site [Joanne Laurier]

 

Jersey Boys / The Dissolve  Tasha Robinson

 

Slant Magazine [Chris Cabin]

 

Film Racket [Bill Gibron]

 

Film Freak Central Review [Angelo Muredda]

 

Jersey Boys, the movie, directed by Clint Eastwood ... - Slate  Dana Stevens

 

PopMatters [Chris Barsanti]

 

Jersey Boys - HitFix  Guy Lodge

 

Cinemixtape [J. Olson]

 

Sound On Sight  JR Kinnard

 

Jersey Boys | Reviews | Screen - Screen International  Tim Grierson from Screendaily

 

Review: Clint Eastwood's 'Jersey Boys' A Classy Yet Clumsy ...  Charlie Schmidlin from The Playlist

 

Eastwood's Jersey Boys Walk Like Jersey Men | Village Voice   Alan Scherstuhl from The Village Voice

 

Popdose [Bob Cashill]

 

Jersey Boys - Reelviews Movie Reviews  James Berardinelli

 

Clint Eastwood's Baffling Jersey Boys - Sophie Gilbert - The ...  Sophie Gilbert from The Atlantic

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

'Jersey Boys' Review: That Thing You Don't Do - Pajiba  Agent Bedhead

 

SBS Movies [Rochelle Siemienowicz]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

Cinemablographer [Pat Mullen]

 

Ruthless [Devon Pack] (Potentially Offensive)

 

theartsdesk.com [Matt Wolf]

 

Qwipster.net [Vince Leo]

 

ArtsHub [Sarah Ward]

 

Little White Lies [Adam Lee Davies]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Film School Rejects [William Goss]

 

Daily | Clint Eastwood's JERSEY BOYS | Keyframe - Explore ...  David Hudson from Fandor

 

'Jersey Boys' actors laud Clint Eastwood's minimalism - Los ...  Saba Hamedy talks to the actors from The LA Times, June 21, 2014 

 

Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio's uneasy relationship with ...  Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudi’s Uneasy Relationship with ‘Jersey Boys,’ where Steven Zeitchik interviews Valli and Gaudio from The LA Times, June 26, 2014

 

'Jersey Boys': Film Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy

 

Jersey Boys review – a sporadically entertaining affair | Film ...  Mark Kermode from The Observer

 

Examiner.com [Travis Hopson]  also seen here:  Punch Drunk Critics [Travis Hopson] 

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Milan Paurich]

 

Austin Chronicle [Louis Black]

 

'Jersey Boys' is old-school entertainment with surprising edge  Kenneth Turan from The LA Times

 

Jersey Boys - Los Angeles Times  Jersey Boys’ Has Been a Windfall for All Involved, by David Ng from The LA Times, June 21, 2014

 

L.A. Biz [Annlee Ellingson]

 

Jersey Boys - Roger Ebert  Odie Henderson

 

'Jersey Boys,' Eastwood's Take on Showbiz Myth - The New ...  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, June 19, 2014, also seen here:  New York Times [By MANOHLA DARGIS]

 

Jersey Boys - Review - Theater - The New York Times  Ben Brantley theater review, November 7, 2005

 

AMERICAN SNIPER                                              C                     70

USA  (132 mi)  2014  ‘Scope                             Official site

 

This is a perfect example of utterly conventional Hollywood filmmaking, as it takes a simplistic, one-dimensional approach to war, patriotism, and serving one’s country, becoming a jingoistic portrayal of an American warrior who thinks he knows what his country stands for by asking no questions, where no reservations are expressed, instead it typifies the gung-ho spirit of the armed forces in much the same way as pro football player Pat Tillman was made the military poster child for enlisting in the Army in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  His idea was to kick some terrorist ass in Afghanistan and Iraq, filled with an ideological certainty that borders on brainwashing, much like the nation’s bullheaded approach for invading Iraq in the first place, where it was inconceivable in Tillman’s eyes that America wouldn’t prevail.  Unfortunately, as the Amir Bar-Lev documentary The Tillman Story (2010) points out, it’s much more complicated than that.  This glorification of heroism is a throwback to Howard Hawks’ SERGEANT YORK (1941), released just months before America’s entrance into World War II, the story of a World War I sharpshooter that became a war hero, one of the most decorated American soldiers in World War I even as he was a devout pacifist, which won Gary Cooper an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Even Gary Cooper, however, was reluctant to play a “too good to be true” character, but reconsidered after meeting Alvin York, the real person the film was based upon.  Interestingly, according to Eastwood himself, that was the first movie he ever saw, so it obviously left an impression on him, just as the images from movies and historical photographs leave impressions on other young soldiers about how to behave during wartime, where they often emulate what they see.  Similarly, a bulked up and more bland, ideologically toned down Bradley Cooper is excellent in the real-life role of Chris Kyle, a down-home Texas cowboy who rode the rodeo circuit early in his twenties, but when he witnesses the 9/11 attacks, he reconsiders his future, enlisting in the Navy SEAL special operations force at age thirty (age 24 in real life, initially rejected by the Navy SEALS due to rodeo injuries) where he also excels as a sharpshooter and is sent to the front lines in Iraq.  As a military sniper, his job is to protect the Marines on the ground by providing an overview vantage point they don’t have, picking off anyone suspected of initiating attacks against the Marine operations.  Adapted from Kyle’s 2012 book written three years after his military discharge, American Sniper:  The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, even the title leaves little doubt as to what the focus will be, though his modest, single-minded claim is always that he was simply doing his job by protecting the lives of others. 

 

While the film takes the viewer into the heart of ongoing military operations, almost exclusively seen through a guy’s perspective, it also has a stateside component where Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife Taya offers a near-cringeworthy performance, though her character is horribly written and is equally one-dimensional, where she seems to have little sympathy or understanding for the unique adjustments soldiers must make upon returning home, as unfortunately they bring a bit of the war back with them.  Instead she nags at him continuously to be the person she married, telling him “I need you to be human again,” expecting him to adjust to her concept of a normal family life, while picking at him when he’s less than forthcoming about describing the horrors that he experienced.  Keeping much of his emotions locked in, it is only a matter of time before he is called back, as he is needed on the battlefield, eventually serving four tours of duty.  Easily the most overwrought and hysterical scenes are the ones when Kyle is in his sniper position in a moment of calm, casually talking to his wife back home, when suddenly a firefight will break out, cutting off normal communications, while she’s left whimpering on the other end of the line wondering what’s happened to her husband.  This guy is in special ops, for Christ’s sake, assigned the most dangerous missions, specially trained to be battle hardened, calm in the face of a storm, yet she doesn’t get it, remaining scared out of her wits and clueless about what this guy does for a living.  These scenes drain much of the energy from the picture, and there are several of them, where she becomes too much of a distraction, as it’s inconceivable to the public back home that wives would want to be on the phone with their husbands “during” military operations.  That’s exactly what could get them killed as it takes away from their primary focus at that moment.  The relationships with fellow soldiers may not get the same amount of screen time, but they are much more acutely drawn, as these guys understand each other, where they are trained to have each other’s backs, instilled with the same warrior mentality, yet they can also laugh in quieter moments, as they’ve each been through hell and back.

 

Certainly one aspect of war this film attempts to convey is the sense of urgency, where Kyle reflects the military mentality when he tells his wife that his family has time to wait, while the frontline soldiers don’t, which is what continually compels him to return.  Embellishing the mythic picture of an American hero, only Hollywood would come up with the storyline about a fellow sniper on the other side, a Syrian soldier fighting for al Qaeda named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) who is actually an Olympic medalist in shooting.  Each is the best in their field, where the storyline continually pits one rival against the other, where much of it breaks down into a mind game, maintaining the psychological advantage, where these men become mythical legends within their own ranks.  Kyle is actually called “The Legend” by his fellow soldiers, where stories of his prowess spread throughout the military branches, where there’s a price on his head, dubbed the “Devil of Ramadi (Shaitan Ar-Ramadi),” placing a bounty on his head that eventually climbs to $80,000, which distinguishes him even in the eyes of the enemy.  This elevates his importance, as it reveals how essential it is militarily for each side to knock out the other’s best sniper.  Both are capable of inflicting huge casualties and altering the success or failure of significant missions.  Much of this is oversimplified, playing out like a western in the American West, inevitably leading to an ultimate shoot out, the winner being the anointed hero.  In Eastwood’s film, however, it nearly brings his unit down, as it exposes their position, subject to an unprecedented attack.  Taking place in a sandstorm, it has a dreamlike quality about it, turning into a battlefield of the dead, as men around them keep dropping like flies, but more continue to storm ahead, taking the place of those fallen beside them.  It offers a feeling for the senselessness of war, yet it’s also combined with the solemn tributes paid to those making the ultimate sacrifice, as Eastwood’s depiction of a military funeral is easily the best thing in the film, perhaps the only scene that touches the right grace note, (2014) soundtrack - Ennio Morricone -The Funeral - YouTube (2:05).  Kyle’s successive returns back home become more detached, told with little fanfare, yet the war continues to intrude into his life, where one of the Eastwood touches is Kyle continually hears the sounds of war taking place even when sitting comfortably on his couch back home, thoughts and sounds he wants to tune out and forget, where he can barely make eye contact or even acknowledge a soldier who graciously thanks him for saving his life.  The brief glimpse in hospitals of wounded veterans in recovery feels essential, even though it’s barely touched upon, preferring instead to dwell on the more dramatic war footage, where only at the end does the Hollywood depiction take a turn into vintage archival material, showing the actual funeral of a fallen hero, leaving the audience in the solemnity of a hushed silence, where the closing credits play with no accompanying music. 

 

While the film attempts to honor and eulogize fallen soldiers, but in idolizing this figure, what the film overlooks are the actual hate-filled views expressed by Kyle in his book, as his zealous American fervor is spewed with xenophobic and racist venom, where killing Iraqis is the answer to his own effusive bitterness and contempt, as he is unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy.”  “I hate the damn savages.  I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis…The enemy are savages and despicably evil.  My only regret is that I didn’t kill more.”  Chris Kyle is actually a younger version of the grizzled old Korean war veteran Walt Kowalski portrayed by Eastwood himself in GRAN TORINO (2008), where his prejudiced views separate him from the changing and more complicated world around him that he can’t begin to understand, as in his mind he’s narrowed it down to overly simplistic, black and white perceptions of good or evil.  In other words, we are right, and they are wrong.  Intentionally or not, much like John Wayne in a John Ford western, most particularly THE SEARCHERS (1956), this film makes a hero out of Kyle, a special ops patriot that took pleasure in killing and dehumanizing the enemy, recalling the frontier spirit of Ford’s westerns where “the only good injun is a dead injun,” which has now evolved into “the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi,” where there are a lot of Chris Kyles in the world who believe in God and country and the American flag, while anyone questioning this view is looked upon with traitorous suspicion and contempt bordering on hatred, equivalent to aiding and abetting the enemy, reminiscent of the derisive and often violent sentiments expressed in the pro-war slogan “America, love it or leave it” during the Vietnam era of the 60’s.  In the unquestioning eyes of the true believers, Kyle’s unambiguous belligerence represents not only the embodiment of America’s cowboy mentality (The Cowboy Myth, George W. Bush, and the War with Iraq), but may also explain his considerable success on the battlefield, as there is no soldier remorse, no guilt or crisis of moral conscience about the act of killing when he regrets none of his actions, where in this case his complete lack of subtlety or imagination is what makes him particularly emblematic of today’s American military hero.  When faced with the choice between depicting the truth or the myth, however, Eastwood decided to go with the myth, which should come as no surprise to anyone, as peddling myths is the very foundation of what Hollywood does for a living, which is also what makes the film so predictably conventional.       

    

The New Yorker [David Denby]                                    

Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” is both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior’s skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery. The movie, set during the Iraq War, has the troubled ambivalence about violence that has shown up repeatedly in Eastwood’s work since the famous scene, midway through “Unforgiven,” in which the act of killing anguishes the killer. Eastwood, working with the screenwriter Jason Hall and with Bradley Cooper, who stars in the film, has adapted the 2012 best-selling autobiography by the Navy seal sharpshooter Chris Kyle (which was written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice). “American Sniper” is devoted to Kyle’s life as a son, a husband, a father, and, most of all, a decorated military man—one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. military history. Kyle, who made a hundred and sixty confirmed kills (and more than two hundred probable kills), is always sure that he’s defending American troops—and his country—against “savages.” Perched on a rooftop in Ramadi or in Sadr City, he’s methodical and imperturbable, and he rarely misses, even at great distance. He shoots insurgents, members of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and, when he thinks it necessary, a woman and a child. He’s haunted by the thought of the Americans he hasn’t been able to save. Cooper is all beefed up—by beer as much as by iron, from the looks of it (it’s intentionally not a movie-star body)—and he gives a performance that’s vastly different from any that he’s given in the past. With fellow-seals in the field, he’s convivial, profane, and funny; at home with his loving wife (Sienna Miller, who’s excellent), he’s increasingly withdrawn and dead-eyed, enraptured only by the cinema of war playing in his mind.

Eastwood’s command of this material makes most directors look like beginners. As Kyle and his men ride through rubble-strewn Iraqi cities, smash down doors, and race up and down stairways, the camera records what it needs to fully dramatize a given event, and nothing more. There’s no waste, never a moment’s loss of concentration, definition, or speed. The general atmosphere of the cities, and the scattered life of the streets, gets packed into the action. The movie, of course, makes us uneasy, and it is meant to. Like Hitchcock in “Rear Window” and Michael Powell in “Peeping Tom,” Eastwood puts us inside the camera lens, allowing us to watch the target in closeup as Kyle pulls the trigger. Eastwood has become tauntingly tough-minded: “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” he seems to be saying. And, with the remorselessness of age, he follows Chris Kyle’s rehabilitation and redemption back home, all the way to their heartbreaking and inexplicable end.

Movie Review: American Sniper -- Vulture  David Edelstein

Spouting off to an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood looked as if he were slipping into doddering dementia, but he’s shrewder and more focused than ever in his Iraq War picture American Sniper. It’s a cracker­jack piece of filmmaking, a declaration that he’s not yet ready to be classified as an Old Master, that he can out-Bigelow Kathryn Bigelow. Morally, though, he has regressed from the heights of Letters From Iwo Jima (2006). In more ways than one, the Iraq occupation is seen through the sight of a high-powered rifle. The movie is scandalously blinkered.

Its springboard is the tragically ­murdered Chris Kyle’s best-selling memoir (written with Jim DeFelice), which chronicled his tours in Iraq as a Navy SEAL and his acquisition — thanks to an unprecedented number of sniper kills — of the sobriquet “the Legend.” I’m not going to fault Kyle’s view of his enemies as representing a “savage, despicable evil,” but I do fault Eastwood for making what is, essentially, a propaganda film.

The script, by Jason Hall, shows Kyle (Bradley Cooper) watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 and enlisting, having learned from his dad that the world consists of “sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs,” and that he must be the last — a protector. Then, after disarming and winning a woman named Taya (Sienna Miller), he’s off to Iraq, with no indication that the two events — 9/11 and the Iraq invasion — have been yoked together by unscrupulous politicians who don’t have a clue what lies in store for American soldiers. As in many jingoist war movies, the native population are portrayed as invaders of our sacred space instead of vice versa. Hall provides a supervillain, a crack shot named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) who hunts the Legend, with Eastwood laying on the growly doomy music whenever Mustafa appears. Their face-off gives American Sniper a conventional, suck-on-this climax.

In the latest Hunger Games movie, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s PR guy, Plutarch, views propaganda footage of Katniss Everdeen and says, “It’s a little on the nose, but of course so is war.” He could be talking about American Sniper. A fellow sniper tells Kyle as he takes aim at a potential insurgent, “If you’re wrong, they send your ass to Leavenworth” — which would be news to a lot of soldiers who got it wrong without consequences. When Kyle goes back to Iraq, Taya (now with their son and daughter) says, “I don’t think we’ll be here when you get back.” And you just know, as soon as Kyle’s buddy asks him to be his best man, that in a few moments, the guy will be history.

Eastwood does stage a scarily amorphous final battle in a sandstorm, and Cooper is very impressive. Best known for more congenial roles, he plays Kyle as grimly self-contained, both hyperalert and alienated. Kyle is put through the kind of training that would drive most men insane and, newly honed, gradually realizes that he’s now fit to do only a few things — protect other Americans, avoid being killed, and kill — and that he’ll never fully recover his old self. But Eastwood — who never directed a better scene than the one in Unforgiven when the protagonist shoots a basically harmless man and has to listen to his excruciating death throes — makes the moral stakes almost nonexistent. The people Kyle shoots always represent a “savage, despicable evil,” and the physical and mental cost to other Americans just comes with the territory. It’s a Republican platform movie.

Review: American Sniper | Film Comment  Chris Norris

When a muezzin call echoes over a black pre-title screen, you know you’re engaged with that top-shelf Hollywood product, the 21st-century war film. Beneath the amplified Arabic chant, a subsonic throb morphs into the rumble of an Abrams tank that appears on screen, up close, from the perspective of the Marines moving warily alongside it down a debris-strewn city corridor, preparing to breach a cinderblock housing complex. Street tension cuts to watchful repose on a nearby rooftop where Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) cradles a long-barreled, sound-suppressor-tipped M40 rifle.

Grungy, bearded, with a dead-lifter’s brawn, NASCAR fan shades, and mud-colored backward ball-cap, Kyle lies motionless, sniffs loudly once or twice, and scans the street below, his bright blue eyes all but popping out of the monochrome palette with which the film renders the blasted war zone—highlighting key assets of a skill set the military credits with killing more people than anyone in its history. As Kyle gives soft, Texan-Jack-Webb reports on his radio, his scope picks up a chador-cloaked woman and a boy walking into the rubble-strewn path of the column. The woman in his cross-hairs produces a grenade and hands it to the child, Kyle’s supervisor radios that he’ll have to make the call himself, and we hold our breath—for a half-hour of expository flashback.

In the 15 days that elapsed between losing director Steven Spielberg and acquiring Clint Eastwood, Team American Sniper did some psychic realignment (from kickass epic to soulful profile in courage), then cast, shot, edited, and delivered a gangbusters hero’s encomium to a man who was shot to death by a troubled vet shortly after his first phone call with producer-star Bradley Cooper. That’s what the military calls a Quick Reaction Force: Eastwood, Cooper, and screenwriter Jason Hall deliver everything this tale requires, without quite squelching the ambient pathology surrounding it.

Any project begun with an avowed commitment to honor a slain war hero will round off some rough edges. Any such film directed by Clint Eastwood risks becoming a Fallujah-set version of Shane. Things seem headed that way after we jump from the rooftop cliffhanger to a bucolic Texas boyhood scene: young Chris bags his first buck, his dad kneels to say “That’s a fine shot, son. You’ve got a gift,” then delivers a moral lesson at the dinner table: “There are three types of people in this world: wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs.” 

Creation myth established, we move briskly through the short-lived rodeo career that gives us our first look at Cooper’s De Niro-to-LaMotta transformation: bulky cowboy walk, finely delineated Texas twang, his light-blue eyes—which read as amped-up or tweaked in previous roles—softened into a gentle perceptiveness that belies his bravado. A TV report on a bombed U.S. embassy moves Kyle to enlist for Navy Seal training in California, where he impresses his rifle-course instructors and teasingly charms a hard-looking beauty named Taya (a brunette Sienna Miller), whom he marries just before being re-deposited onto the opening scene’s rooftop.

Using Kyle’s rifle scope for his POV, Eastwood begins a film-length dialectic with a visual conceit used in countless spy, crime, and action thrillers (including Eastwood’s most famous role: a cop pushed beyond legal limits to stop a psycho-killer… sniper). With a soft exhalation, Cooper shoots first the boy, then the woman attempting to complete his pass, the grenade exploding harmlessly. When a jarhead beside him slaps Kyle’s shoulder in congrats, Cooper tersely backs him off, registering an ambivalence conspicuously absent from Kyle’s account of the same incident.

This sobering moment begins Kyle’s sequential tours of Iraq hot spots Fallujah, Ramadi, and Sadyr City, where in 2008 he makes an impossible, record-breaking shot from 2,100 yards, the round traveling toward its target for some five seconds of screen time as if, I daresay, guided by Divine Forces. The actual RPG-wielding target is replaced here by Kyle’s doppelgänger, Syrian Olympic marksman Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), who earlier foiled Kyle’s attempt to save an informer from a black-robed, power-drill-wielding Qaeda enforcer known as the Butcher (Mido Hamada). Frustrated by his own powerlessness and the casualties that the less tactically adroit Marines take during raids, Kyle leaves his rooftop aerie to lead the soldiers in what becomes the film’s most thrilling section. Roving the ancient apartment complex’s shadowy corridors, the SEAL-led Marines stake out lairs and interrogate suspects as they hunt for the Butcher and his al-Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Here, the 84-year-old Eastwood shows a command of complex, large-scale action setpieces to rival nearly any director in the action-film game, the film’s perspective switching from that of the foot soldiers to the snipers targeting them from above.

As the ferocity of his missions escalate, Kyle’s home life shows relatively minor stress fractures. “Even when you’re here, you’re not here,” Taya over-explicates, after suffering a few cruel-and-unusual satellite calls from the midst of firefights. The coming-home plotline feels cursory and underwritten. Responding to any query into Kyle’s emotional state with bright-eyed monosyllables, Cooper gives denial a vividly fresh face, but the characters’ troubling post-battlefield behavior barely exceeds a blunted affect, and his readjustment to suburban home life is mighty speedy for someone who estimates he killed about 100 more than the 160 that were confirmed. In Unforgiven (92), Eastwood explored the wounds that killing inflicts on killers, which post-combat clinical psychiatrists now define as “moral injury.”

As Chris Kyle, Cooper beautifully realizes a living, breathing gentle-giant of a human being; but as a fictional bomb- disposal soldier, Jeremy Renner let The Hurt Locker share truths about war that American Sniper is too respectful to explore. In the book American Sniper, the author does share one regret that haunts him: “I only wish I had killed more.”

“American Sniper” and the culture wars: Why the movie's not ...  Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, January 15, 2015

Debate about cultural topics, in our era of insta-judgment and unwarranted conclusions, becomes so flattened and foreshortened that the initial subject disappears from view. Anyone who’s ever read anything I have written understands that I am deeply committed to a view of culture as politics (and politics as an aspect of culture). But the back-and-forth social-media wars over “Selma” and “American Sniper” demonstrate how cultural works get reduced to “politics” in the least interesting sense of that word, meaning the tedious binary between “left” and “right,” neither word meaning what it claims to mean, that explains nothing and obscures everything. An entire range of complex divisions and intersections in American life — based in geography, history, race, class, education and economics, in other words all the elements of “culture” in its anthropological sense — get boiled down to the symbolic circus of bipartisan politics. (I am always tempted to say “meaningless” circus, but that gets people’s dander up and isn’t quite true. It means. It just doesn’t mean much.)

You can’t reduce Ava DuVernay’s magnificent and troubled historical drama “Selma” to its historical fudges on the relationship between Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. (I have a bigger problem, the more I think about it, with casting British actors in all four major roles as prominent 20th-century Americans.) The LBJ question is no more than a footnote or parenthesis within the film itself, but one that for the moment has contaminated its reputation. Similarly, Clint Eastwood’s Iraq War drama “American Sniper” is now defined by its extraordinary $105 million box-office performance over the MLK holiday weekend, apparently driven by white male moviegoers in the heartland states. It’s very close to the biggest January opening in Hollywood history, and by far the biggest in Eastwood’s directing career, which includes quite a few hits.

I don’t mean to equate the two films: “Selma” is a more original and more successful work, with deeper historical resonance. But it’s almost as unfair to describe “American Sniper” as nationalistic war propaganda as to describe “Selma” as anti-white historical revisionism. I say “almost” because Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall leave themselves halfway open to that interpretation with their measured and deliberately ambiguous portrayal of Chris Kyle, the profoundly unreflective cowboy-turned-sharpshooter played in the movie by Bradley Cooper. But despite Eastwood’s reputation as the strong, silent type both as a movie star and a director, you really can’t accuse him of being an apologist for violence or depicting it as free of consequences. If one theme ties together his better films, from “High Plains Drifter” to “Sudden Impact” to “Unforgiven” to “Gran Torino,” it’s the lingering trauma of violence and the difficulty of overcoming it. That’s the real subject of “American Sniper” too, no matter how many racist tweets from yahoos in Oklahoma it may have provoked.

As Salon’s Laura Miller discussed in her memorable review of Kyle’s memoir (which provoked considerable ire among his right-wing admirers), the real Kyle, who by his own reckoning shot more than 250 people in Iraq — before being shot himself by an unstable fellow veteran — absolutely thought of himself as a steadfast warrior for good in a Manichaean universe. He stood tall against the “bad guys” and “savages” of the Islamic world, confirming the worst Arab-held stereotypes by getting a “Crusader cross” tattooed on his trigger arm. He apparently never questioned the politics and strategy behind the sequence of events that sent him to Iraq in the first place, and couldn’t be bothered with parsing fine distinctions between al-Qaida, the Saddam Hussein regime, the Iraqi civilian population and the foreign fighters from all over the Islamic world who later joined the Iraqi insurgency. Unsurprisingly, his memoir never mentions Abu Ghraib or Gitmo or “enhanced interrogation” or the total absence of Iraqi WMD or any connection between Iraq and 9/11. He recounts telling a superior that he wished he were free to gun down random unarmed people based on his own godlike judgment, but was nonetheless obeying the military’s pantywaist rules of engagement.

It’s true that Eastwood and Hall – and especially Cooper, an actor who can display visible internal torment without apparently doing anything – have made the movie’s Kyle more sympathetic, more complicated and less of a raging dumbass. I’m aware of the disputes between people who attack “Selma” for its lack of historical veracity and those who are exercised about the depiction of Chris Kyle straying from documented facts. It’s a deeply uninteresting game of gotcha, in my judgment – both movies offer an interpretation of real events for specific narrative purposes, and I think both choices are generally defensible. Go ahead and attack Eastwood for making a movie that’s totally uninterested in the underlying politics of the Iraq conflict, and that depicts its Arab characters in cursory and stereotypical terms. That’s entirely legitimate, and indeed I think those America-centric aspects partly undermine the film’s aims. But to assign Eastwood some Bush-Cheney war-booster agenda because he supported Mitt Romney in 2012, or even because some unknown proportion of moviegoers have seized on it that way, simply isn’t fair.

“American Sniper,” the movie, is a character study about a guy who sees himself as fundamentally honorable and decent, but whose simplistic moral code turns out to be exceptionally poor preparation for the real world and real warfare. How well Eastwood accomplishes that goal, whether or not it’s worth doing and how much that may or may not reflect the real story of Chris Kyle are all matters for debate. In Cooper’s marvelously contained physical performance, Kyle’s beefy, cheerful Texas certainty seduces us part of the way toward his self-righteous vision of himself. Or it does if you let it, and depending on how you process the film’s opening scene, in which Kyle faces a decision about whether to shoot a woman and child on a Fallujah street who appear to be carrying a grenade. The Marine serving as his spotter groans, “Man, they’ll send you to Leavenworth if you’re wrong.” I couldn’t help reflecting that, no, they almost certainly won’t.

In their quest to create a relatable hero for the mainstream American audience – the proverbial dudes-who-don’t-go-to-movies, who have evidently shown up for this one – Eastwood and Hall slice the moral equation awfully fine. They never directly challenge Kyle’s assertion that all his Iraqi kills were “clean” and all his targets “bad guys,” and they manufacture a fictional rivalry between Kyle and a mysterious insurgent sniper called Mustafa, who never speaks but is so physically striking – long, lean and distinguished, with amazing eyelashes – as to be beautiful rather than handsome. It’s like a forceful undercurrent of Orientalist and homoerotic fantasy: Which of these guys will end up drilling the other one with an impossible rifle shot from 2,000 meters, the suave mustachioed Arab clad all in black or the buff, bearded Texan with the frat-boy ball cap? (You don’t even get one guess.)

On the other hand, “American Sniper” never shies away from depicting Kyle as racist and xenophobic, an innocent abroad rendered armed and exceptionally dangerous. After sitting through the film twice, I’m more convinced than ever that there’s a level of sardonic commentary at work that is sometimes subtle and sometimes pretty damn obvious. Pay attention to Cooper’s increasingly congested body language, the posture of a man stricken with unmanageable psychic distress. Pay attention to the use of the phrase “mission accomplished” late in the film, or the stateside scene in which Kyle runs into a Marine whose life he saved in Fallujah and can’t even make eye contact with the guy. This is a portrait of an American who thought he knew what he stood for and what his country stood for and never believed he needed to ask questions about that. He drove himself to kill and kill and kill based on that misguided ideological certainty – that brainwashing, though I’m sure Clint Eastwood would never use that word – and then paid the price for it. So did we all, and the reception of this film suggests that the payments keep on coming due.

Death of an American sniper - Salon.com  Laura Miller book review, February 7, 2013

 

American Sniper feeds America’s hero complex, and it isn’t the truth about war  Alex Horton from The Guardian, December 24, 2014

 

The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are ...  Lindy West from The Guardian, January 5, 2015

 

Is American Sniper historically accurate? | Film | The Guardian  Alex von Tunzelmann, January 20, 2015

 

The mediocrity of 'American Sniper'  Alyssa Rosenberg from The Washington Post, January 21, 2015

 

American Sniper and the political battle over Chris Kyle.  Dana Stevens from Slate, January 21, 2015

 

Every movie rewrites history. What American Sniper did is much, much worse.  Amanda Taub from Vox, January 22, 2015

 

Editorial: The reality of American Sniper Chris Kyle  The Dallas Morning News, January 22, 2015

 

How Accurate Is American Sniper? We've Separated Fact From Fiction.  Courtney Duckworth from Slate, January 23, 2015

 

American Sniper: propaganda movie or tale the nation needed to hear?  Andrew Pulver from The Guardian, January 23, 2015

 

'American Sniper's' missing element: The man behind the gun  Alyssa Rosenberg from The Washington Post, January 24, 2015

 

American Sniper: anti-Muslim threats skyrocket in wake of film's release  Nicky Woolf from The Guardian, January 24, 2015

 

'American Sniper' Has Led to Increase in Threats Against Muslims: Civil Rights ...  Hilary Lewis from The Hollywood Reporter, January 26, 2015

 

Why the Left Hates American Sniper | Observer  Rabbi Shmuley Boteach from The Observer, January 27, 2015

 

Jesse Ventura calls 'American Sniper' Chris Kyle a 'liar'  Teresa Mull from The Week magazine, January 29, 2015

 

Civil war at the cineplex: “American Sniper,” “Selma ... - Salon  Civil war at the cineplex: “American Sniper,” “Selma” and the battle over American masculinity, by David Mascriota from Salon, February 1, 2015

 

“The truth is unspeakable”: A real American sniper unloads on “American...  Dennis Trainor Jr. from Salon, February 4, 2015

 

'American Sniper' trial set to start this week in glare of international publicity  Dianna Hunt from The Dallas Morning News, February 7, 2015

 

“American Sniper’s” sinister philosophy: Pro-war propaganda wrapped in...  Robert Gordon from Salon, February 8, 2015

 

'Legend' of American sniper Chris Kyle looms over murder trial  Ed Lavandera from CNN News, February 9, 2015

 

American Sniper Is a War-on-Terror Fantasy | Village Voice Amy Nicholson from The Village Voice

 

Review: Bradley Cooper shines but Eastwood ... - HitFix  Drew McWeeny

 

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Writing: Movies [Chris Knipp]

 

'American Sniper' Review: What Is It Good For? - Pajiba  TK

 

The Society For Film [James Marsh]

 

Ruthless Reviews [potentially offensive] (Matt)  Matt Cale

 

World Socialist Web Site [Matthew MacEgan]

 

Critic After Dark [Noel Vera]

 

Rappler [Oggs Cruz]

 

Reel Insights [Hannah McHaffie]  also seen here:  Hannah McHaffie [Reel Insights]

 

Review: Clint Eastwood's American Sniper is a war movie ...  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from The Onion A.V. Club

 

DVDTalk.com - theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]

 

Slant Magazine [Chuck Bowen]

 

American Sniper / The Dissolve  Keith Phipps

 

Film Racket [Chris Barsanti]

 

Flavorwire [Jason Bailey]

 

The Steve Pulaski Message Board [Steve Pulaski]

 

AMERICAN SNIPER Movie Review: Nobody Tries Less ...  Devin Faraci from Badass Digest

 

The Film Stage [Brian Priestley]

 

theartsdesk.com [Nick Hasted]

 

Cinemablographer [Pat Mullen]

 

DVD Talk [Jeff Nelson]

 

DVDizzy.com [Luke Bonanno]

 

AVForums [Cas Harlow]

 

American Sniper - QNetwork Entertainment Portal  James Kendrick

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

outlawvern.com [Vern]

 

Film Freak Central Review [Angelo Muredda]

 

Erik Lundegaard [Erik Lundegaard]

 

The History of the Academy Awards: Best Picture - 2014 [Erik Beck]

 

Cinemixtape [J. Olson]

 

The Kim Newman Website [Kim Newman]

 

Twitch [Peter Martin]

 

SBS Movies [Peter Galvin]

 

Cinema365 [Carlos deVillalvilla]

 

Digital Spy [Stella Papamichael]

 

American Sniper - Reelviews Movie Reviews  James Berardinelli

 

Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]

 

Spectrum Culture [David Harris]

 

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The Focus Pull Film Journal [Josef Rodriguez]

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

American Sniper (2014) Movie Review from Eye for Film  Amber Wilkinson

 

Aisle Seat [Mike McGranaghan]

 

Little White Lies [Keith Uhlich]

 

Monsters and Critics [Ron Wilkinson]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

'American Sniper' review: A patriot's obsession  Z News

 

'American Sniper' Complaints Grow in Hollywood: Should Clint Eastwood Be ...  Steve Pond from The Wrap, January 18, 2015

 

The Real Story Behind American Sniper Chris Kyle  Paul Mosely from People magazine

 

'American Sniper' Chris Kyle: His own words on war and Hollywood  Debbi Baker from U-T San Diego, January 17, 2015

 

The Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]

 

Variety [Justin Chang]

 

American Sniper review – worryingly dull celebration of a killer  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian

 

American Sniper review – Bradley Cooper stars in real-life ...  Mark Kermode from The Guardian

 

The Japan Times [Giovanni Fazio]

 

Westender Vancouver [Thor Diakow]

 

Examiner.com [Ben Kenber]

 

Examiner.com [Chris Sawin]

 

Examiner.com [Travis Hopson]  also seen here:  Punch Drunk Critics [Travis Hopson]

 

Why we fear and admire the military sniper  Graeme Wood from The Boston Globe, January 16, 2015

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Milan Paurich]

 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

 

Dallas Film Now [Joe Baker]

 

Review: 'American Sniper' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan

 

L.A. Biz [Annlee Ellingson]

 

American Sniper - Roger Ebert  Glenn Kenny, December 25, 2014  

 

“Evil Against Evil”: The Fascinating Incoherence of American ...  Niles Schwartz from the Ebert site, February 23, 2014

 

'American Sniper,' a Clint Eastwood Film Starring Bradley ...  A.O. Scott from The New York Times

 

American Sniper (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Chris Kyle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Ebert, Roger – film critic

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List - CINE-FILE Chicago  Friday, APR. 5 - Thursday, APR. 11, Managing Editor Patrick Friel, on behalf of all of the volunteer contributors at Cine-File


ROGER EBERT (1942-2013)

We at Cine-File are extraordinarily saddened at the passing yesterday of legendary Chicago film critic Roger Ebert. Mr. Ebert was a passionate and vocal advocate for cinema, a remarkable writer, and an example of how film criticism could still be smart, affecting, political, and personal even in a large city daily newspaper and on a shifting series of television programs. Mr. Ebert never forgot his roots and never forgot his early cinema loves. He was the rare popular critic (and no one has ever been as popular) who really knew cinema history. His writing was informed by this knowledge and deep love for classic Hollywood and myriad foreign films. He was a true Chicago critic: feisty, opinionated, unapologetic. He didn't suffer fools, or foolish films. But he was also someone who maintained a humility and humbleness throughout his career. He was approachable. He supported small and independent film venues and series in many ways. He relished new talent—filmmakers and critics both. He had a sharp wit—one that he often turned on himself. He connected directly with his fans and readers via his website, Facebook, and, especially, his Twitter account. In the last few years, after the unimaginable series of cancer occurrences, other medical issues, and surgeries left him unable to speak and severely disfigured, he did not shy away from his problems. He continued to put himself out publicly, challenging people to deal with his appearance, working to de-stigmatize his disease and the drastic repercussions it can have. He also became more vocal politically, using his celebrity to champion causes he believed in, carrying though his uncompromising work as a critic to broader areas of human life. These past several years, since his initial cancer diagnosis and especially since his surgery to remove his lower jaw, are his most triumphant accomplishments. The example of his indomitable spirit, strong work ethic, unabated love for watching, thinking about, and writing about film, and the grace with which he dealt with his misfortunes are inspiring and a legacy worth more than his fame, his Pulitzer Prize, and his many accolades. Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert. And thank you.

Roger Ebert honored by Hollywood stars - chicagotribune.com  Mark Caro from The Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2013

“Roger, this is your happening, and it's freaking me out.”

This is how Chaz Ebert, after receiving a standing ovation from the Chicago Theatre crowd with her hand over her heart, introduced Thursday's tribute to her late husband —by invoking a line from his screenplay to 1970’s campy cult film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”  Later in “Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life,” clips from the Russ Meyer film would be shown, and tears would be shed, though not at the same time.

It was that kind of night.

If Roger Ebert's funeral Monday at Holy Name Cathedral — following his death April 4 at age 70 after a long cancer battle — represented his formal, religious farewell, complete with speeches from the governor and mayor, then Thursday's event at the Chicago Theatre was more of a laughter- and sorrow-filled send-off from the entertainment and media worlds.

There were clips this time, of Ebert and his late TV partner Gene Siskel arguing on the sets of their and others’ (such as Johnny Carson’s) shows, as well as interviews that the Chicago Sun-Times film critic gave before and after cancer claimed his jaw and ability to speak, even as his writing gained depth and vigor. There were also speakers and more speakers.

Ebert famously said, “No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough,” and in the scheme of things, Ebert was more than a very good movie. So it’s no wonder that the people who loved him wanted to talk about him and not to let go. Even at the end of a 2-hour-and-45-minute program, Chaz Ebert told actors Chris Tucker and Scott Wilson in the audience that she was sorry that they didn’t have a chance to speak.

Others did, such as Evanston native/sibling actors Joan and John Cusack. Joan revealed that she'd been asked to read a letter that turned out to be from President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama, who offered their sympathies to those gathered and praised Ebert's “remarkable tenacity” and “zest for life.”

John Cusack shared memories of reading Ebert while growing up, and he recalled visiting New York (and “Late Night with David Letterman”) as a 17-year-old to promote his first lead turn in “The Sure Thing” and winding up seated at a table next to one shared by Ebert and Siskel at the Carnegie Deli. The young Cusack was sweating bullets, he said, until Ebert leaned over and told him, “I liked your movie.”

John Cusack also recalled the studios always stressing to him the importance of his interviews with Ebert, who “reeked of integrity” and thus couldn’t be bought. “He was always supportive of artists and always gave you a fair shake,” Cusack said.

Marlene Iglitzen, Siskel's widow, candidly related how Siskel and Ebert genuinely didn’t like each other so much in the early days, with Siskel having to be persuaded to invite Ebert to their wedding only for Ebert not to show up. The big difference maker, in her view, was Chaz, who helped her husband — and his heart — grow to the point that all were much closer by the time Siskel died at age 53 in 1999.

Up till that point, Siskel and Ebert had been inseparable as far as their professional identities went, but Iglitzen praised Ebert for thriving in the years after Siskel was gone, saying she felt a bit of her husband was alive as long as Ebert was.

Filmmaker Gregory Nava lauded the late critic for his championing of non-mainstream films, such as his own “El Norte” (1983), and for his “great heart. The world of movies has lost its heart.”

Nava recalled being invited to Ebert’s bedside in the days before he died only to see the writer scribbling supportive messages to him and other visitors.

“Roger didn’t ask us to be with him to comfort him,” Nava said, choking back tears. “He wanted us to be with him to give us something.”

Other filmmakers — Chicagoan Andrew Davis (“The Fugitive”), Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”) and Ava DuVernay (“Middle of Nowhere”) — told stories of friendship and encouragement, with the latter two singling out Ebert’s dedication to African-American filmmakers.

On the more ribald side, Old Town Ale House owner Bruce Elliott told an anecdote to illustrate Ebert's love of large breasts, and activist/comedian Dick Gregory, 80, showed he’s still got razor-sharp timing as he somehow managed to work a joke about Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault accusations into a zippy tribute that ended with him comparing Ebert to a turtle: “hard on the outside, soft on the inside and willing to stick your neck out.”

Newscaster Bill Kurtis (who provided Ebert’s voice on the recent “Ebert Presents At the Movies” show), TV producer Thea Flaum (creator of Siskel & Ebert’s PBS show “Sneak Previews”), Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, Sun-Times columnist and former Ebert TV partner Richard Roeper, Facets executive director Milos Stehlik, former Playboy chairwoman Christie Hefner, Ebert Digital co-founder Josh Golden, disabilities-rights activist Marcia Bristo, Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy, new Variety film critic Scott Foundas, film industry veteran Tom Luddy, and Tribune reporter Monica Eng and her sister Magan (both of whom maintained a close relationship with Ebert long after their mother had stopped dating him) also offered testimonials. The gospel groups Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago and Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago opened and closed the show.

By my unofficial non-count, the word that came up second most often was “empathy.”

The word that came up most often was “heart.”

And in the end there was Chaz, on the stage with her family, Roger’s stepchildren and grandchildren, opening hers.

“I have a capacity for love that is very deep,” she said plainly, noting that she knew she had to fill a hole that had been in Ebert’s life. So she did, for more than 20 years of marriage.

And when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and lost his jaw and ability to speak and to eat solid foods in 2006, she willed him on, saying she knew he had more important things to do. But when the cancer returned again recently, “this time he said, ‘I’m tired. You must let me go,’” she recounted. “I thought we had two more years to go. I did not know he would go so quickly.”

Still, she said, she hoped that everyone could experience a love like theirs, even when times were tough.

“When he was disfigured, when I looked at him, I saw beauty,” she said. 

On this point there would be no argument.

Movie Reviews and Ratings by Film Critic Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert  newly designed Ebert site

 

Reviews  Ebert’s regular site at the Chicago Sun-Times, also seen here:  rogerebert.com :: Movie reviews, essays and the Movie Answer Man ...

Great Movies  Ebert’s Great Movies site

Roger Ebert’s Blog

Roger Ebert Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story - Biography.com

 

Roger Ebert's The Great Movies and Greatest Films  by Tim Dirks

 

Ebertfest: Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival  also seen here:  Ebertfest: Roger Ebert's Film Festival

 

Roger Ebert on Facebook

 

"The Pot and How to Use It"  160 pages

 

"The Great Movies III"  432 pages

 

His 1969 Profile of Paul Newman  Newman's Complaint, by Roger Ebert, Esquire magazine, September 1969

 

The Best Story Roger Ebert Ever Wrote for Esquire  Ebert interview of Lee Marvin from Esquire, November 1970, republished February 18, 2010

 

The New York Times > Magazine > Domains: A Film Critic's Windy ...  A Film Critic's Windy City Home, by Edward Lewine, February 13, 2005

 

Catching a Movie With an Old Friend  Stephen Hunter from The Washington Post, June 12, 2005

 

Roger Ebert's Farewell to "Ebert and Roeper"   The Balcony Is Closed, Chicago Sun Times, July 24, 2008

 

Roger Ebert Is the Essential Man  Chris Jones from Esquire, February 16, 2010, also seen here:  Roger Ebert Cancer Battle - Roger Ebert Interview - Esquire 

 

A Few More Intimate Moments with Roger Ebert  Chris Jones from Esquire, March 2, 2010


Tech Gurus Give Roger Ebert His Voice Back  CBS News, March 2, 2010

 

Roger Ebert: Why I Hate 3D Movies - The Daily Beast  Roger Ebert from The Daily Beast, May 9, 2010

 

The Author Responds to Tea-Party Attacks on Ebert  Chris Jones from The Politics Blog, May 12, 2010

 

Roger Ebert Pens New Cookbook  CBS News, June 30, 2010

 

Roger Ebert: Starting Over  Cynthia Bowers from CBS News, January 2, 2011

 

Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed.  Roger Ebert Blog, January 23, 2011

 

Roger Ebert's TED Talk: The Internet Saved My Life  Foster Kamer from Esquire, March 8, 2011

 

I finally won the New Yorker cartoon caption competition  Roger Ebert from The Guardian, May 1, 2011

 

"I was born inside the movie of my life"  Roger Ebert Journal, August 15, 2011

 

I do not fear death - Salon.com  Roger Ebert, September 15, 2011

 

Roger Ebert: A Critic Reflects On 'Life Itself' : NPR  John Powers from NPR, September 21, 2011

 

Ebert measures up to celluloid's stoic heroes | Michael Miner on ...   Michael Miner reviews Ebert’s new memoir, Life Itself from The Chicago Reader, October 27, 2011

 

Roger Ebert: 'I'm an optimistic person'   Rachel Cooke from The Observer, November 5, 2011

 

Women are Better Than Men  Roger Ebert, May 13, 2012

 

Chaz Ebert Writes to Absent Roger from Cannes  Jen Yamato at Cannes from Movieline, May 21, 2012

 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Tryst With Roger Ebert  Subhash Kjha at Business of Cinema, May 28, 2012

 

Roger Ebert–a 'bitchy' man hater?  Dennis Byrne from Chicago Now, May 28, 2012

 

Roger Ebert honored for 'Making History'  ABC News, June 7, 2012

 

Happy 70th Birthday Roger Ebert!  Gary Susman from Moviefone, June 18, 2012

 

Two Thumbs Up  Today’s Pictures from Slate, June 18, 2012

 

Martin Scorsese plans Roger Ebert documentary  Ben Child from The Guardian, September 10, 2012

 

A Leave of Presence  Roger Ebert’s last post, April 2, 2013

 

Roger Ebert takes 'leave of presence' to deal with recurrence of cancer   Amanda Holpuch from The Guardian, April 3, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, film's hero to the end  Steven Zeitchik from The LA Times, April 3, 2013

 

A statement from Chaz Ebert  April 4, 2013

 

“The Thinking Molecules of Titan”: A Story by Roger Ebert  The New Yorker, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert: Critic with the soul of a poet  Rick Kogan from The Chicago Tribune, April 4, 2013

 

Farewell to a generous colleague and friend  Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune, April 4, 2013

 

The unique partnership of Siskel and Ebert  Sid Smith feature from 1999, reprinted from The Chicago Tribune, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert dead at 70 after battle with cancer  Neil Steinberg from The Chicago Sun-Times, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert (1942-2013) :: rogerebert.com :: In Memory  Neil Steinberg from Ebert blog, April 4, 2013

 

Postscript: Roger Ebert, 1942-2013  Richard Brody from The New Yorker, April 4, 2013

 

A Critic for the Common Man  Douglas Martin from The New York Times, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert Is Remembered on Twitter, a Place Where He Found a New Voice  Mekado Murphy and Michael Roston from The New York Times, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, nation’s best-known movie critic, dies at age 70 after long battle with cancer  The Washington Post, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, prolific film critic in print and on TV, dies at 70  Emma Brown from The Washington Post, April 4, 2013

 

An accessible and empowering critic  Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post, April 4, 2013

 

Remembering Roger Ebert  Marie Elizabeth Oliver from The Washington Post, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, dies aged 70   The Guardian, April 4, 2013

 

Remembrance: Roger Ebert, film's hero to the end  Kenneth Turan from The LA Times, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert dies at 70; Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic  John Horn and Valerie J. Nelson from The LA Times, April 4, 2013

 

Remembering Roger Ebert through his books  Carolyn Kellogg from The LA Times, April 4, 2013

 

Fans, celebrities react to death of film critic Roger Ebert  Amy Kaufman from The LA Times, April 4, 2013

 

Recalling Roger Ebert's influence, on- and off-screen  Oliver Gettell from The LA Times, April 4, 2013

 

PHOTOS: Roger Ebert - Career in Pictures  The LA Times, April 4, 2013

 

PHOTOS: Remembering Roger Ebert  WGN TV, April 4, 2013

 

Remembering the Roger I knew  Jim Emerson from Scanners, April 4, 2013

 

My Roger Ebert Story  Will Leitch from Deadspin, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert: Farewell to a Film Legend and Friend  Richard Corliss from Time magazine, April 4, 2013

 

Editing Roger Ebert: A Former Colleague Reflects on the Journalism Legend  Steven S. Duke from Time magazine, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert R.I.P.  Michael Scherer from Time magazine, April 4, 2013

 

Chicago Sun-Times Film Critic Roger Ebert Dies  Caryn Rousseau from Time magazine, April 4, 2013

 

Edelstein on Roger Ebert: Farewell To the Mayor of Movie Critic-Ville  David Edelstein from The Vulture, April 4, 2013

 

Some thoughts on the death of Roger Ebert, a man who meant a lot to us   Scott Tobias from The Onion A.V. Club, April 4, 2013

 

What did Roger Ebert mean to you?  The Onion A.V. Club, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert: In Memoriam  Richard Starzec from The Wesleyan Argus, April 4, 2013

 

Daily | Roger Ebert, 1942 – 2013  David Hudson from Fandor, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Simon: The debt I owe Roger Ebert  Roger Simon from The Chicago Sun-Times, April 4, 2013

 

A newspaperman's newspaperman  Roger Simon from Politico, April 4, 2013

 

RIP Roger Ebert: 1942-2013  Tal Rosenberg from The Chicago Reader, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, the Enthusiast   Christopher Orr from The Atlantic, April 4, 2013

 

What Roger Ebert Knew About Writing   Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic, April 4, 2013

 

A Chicago Critic Remembers Roger Ebert  Maureen Ryan from The Huffington Post, April 4, 2013

 

Funniest Roger Ebert Quotes: His Best Movie Take Downs  The Huffington Post, April 4, 2013

 

Remembering Roger Ebert  Linda Holmes from NPR, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, Legendary Film Critic, Dies  Eyder Peralta from NPR, April 4, 2013

 

For Pulitzer-Winning Critic Roger Ebert, Films Were A Journey - NPR  Cheryl Corley from NPR, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert Dead at 70 | Movies News | Rolling Stone  Jon Blistein from Rolling Stone magazine, April 4, 2013

 

Peter Travers on Roger Ebert: No One Could Keep Up With Him ...  Peter Travers from Rolling Stone magazine, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)  Matt Singer from indieWIRE, April 4, 2013

 

A Tribute to Roger Ebert  Matt Singer from indieWIRE, April 4, 2013

 

Go to All the Movies You Can  Dana Stevens from Slate, April 4, 2013

 

Influential US film critic Roger Ebert dies at 70  Jill Serjeant from Reuters, April 4, 2013

 

Legendary Film Critic Roger Ebert Dead at 70  Angela Watercutter from Wired, April 4, 2013

 

Calum Marsh, Film.com  April 4, 2013

 

Tim Grierson, Paste Magazine  April 4, 2013

 

Scott Renshaw, City Weekly  April 4, 2013

 

Danny King, The Film Stage  April 4, 2013

 

R.I.P. Roger Ebert (1942-2013)  Adam Cook from Mubi, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013  Glenn Kenny from Some Came Running, April 4, 2013

 

I Will Miss You Roger Ebert  Kim Morgan from Sunset Gun, April 4, 2013

 

10 Movies Roger Ebert Really Hated | Mental Floss  Stacy Conradt from Mental Floss, April 4, 2013

 

What Did Roger Ebert Think of Some of Your Favorite Movies? - IGN  Jim Vejvoda from IGN, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, RIP  Bill Pearis remembers many of Ebert’s video reviews from Brooklyn Vegan, April 4, 2013

 

R.I.P., Roger Ebert  Matt Langdon from BunueL, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert 1942-2013  Filmleaf, April 4, 2013

 

Legendary Film Critic Roger Ebert Dead At 70  Joshua Brunsting from Criterion Cast, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert Reviews: Beloved Movies He Didn't Like (PHOTOS)  Katy Hall from The Huffington Post, April 4. 2013

 

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter  April 4, 2013

 

Critic Roger Ebert Dies at 70 - The Hollywood Reporter  Mike Barnes from The Hollywood Reporter, April 4, 2013

 

Remembering Roger Ebert: The Iconic Film Critic's Life and Career in Pictures  The Hollywood Reporter, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert's Top 20 Best- and Worst-Reviewed Films  The Hollywood Reporter, April 4, 2013

 

Famed movie critic Roger Ebert dies  Jim Cheng from USA Today, April 4, 2013

 

First Take: Roger Ebert, forever at the movies  Susan Wloszczyna from USA Today, April 4, 2013

 

Obama, Scorsese, Winfrey lead tributes to Roger Ebert  Bryan Alexander from USA Today, April 4, 2013

 

Film critic Roger Ebert dies at 70  Kirt Schlosser from NBC News, April 4, 2013

 

Roger Ebert, America's Movie Critic, Dead at 70 After Battle With ...  Troy McMullen from ABC News,