L13FC: Clint Eastwood as the Isolated Hero

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me, and we approach a topic of the film industry and talk to visitors all day on the thirteenth of the month. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

The isolated hero is a loner who prefers his own company preferably in nature or isolated position. They are pulled into society to attend to the conflict at hand and by the story’s conclusion, they return to isolation, or at its extreme state, the coffin.

How many movies has Clint starred or directed protagonists that fit this description?

It would be easier to extract the rare ones that did not feature the isolated hero.

Fellow film blogger JOHN RIEBER and I had a conversation a while ago about Eastwood, and I wanted to include his summary of Eastwood’s career:

Clint Eastwood was an Anti-hero. It began with his “Man With No Name” trilogy –  “A Fistful Of Dollars”, “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”.  The ultimate “Anti-Hero” character of all was his “Dirty Harry” Callahan – 1971.  Another no-name stranger metes out justice as well in 1973’s “High Plains Drifter”.
Flash forward twenty years to 1993’s “In The Line Of Fire” and Eastwood is now on the side of law and order, risking his life to save the President.  “Space Cowboys” in 2000, older, ex-test pilots are sent into space to repair an old Russian satellite.“Gran Torino” in 2008 saw him as a bitter old man who takes it upon himself to tackle crime in his neighborhood and dies a martyr. “American Sniper” in 2014 told the story of an American Hero, again dying a martyr’s death.  In 2016, “Sully” was a true story of heroic action.

As director, Eastwood continues his exploration of the hero with his NEXT FILM: THE 1517 to PARIS.

 

However you want to classify Clint Eastwood as an actor or director, one aspect in all his films are the ISOLATED SETTINGS. Most key scenes and many of his stories occur around isolated positions, whether the job demanded it such as: a radio booth, a police car, the side of a hill, the boxing ring, the sniper’s corner, the cockpit, the convertible, the back of a horse, the front porch, a Japanese cave, or the bathtub. I find whenever I watch an Eastwood film, I am drawn to the isolated setting and it adds in my mind of him as the isolated hero.

Eastwood films are persuasive. He is out to showcase males and females who are strong, individualistic, dedicated, and atypical. His love-affair with the everyday hero inspires us to be true to oneself and to live life with integrity. It’s an important quality he admires, and it’s a virtue in most all his characters. He matches up unlikely friendships in unlikely conflicts. Is there a more universal human condition than how the individual survives within the community? I think Eastwood is one of the more interesting icons to come out of Hollywood. He’s not an icon. He’s Super-Icon.

How do you see Clint Eastwood’s idea of the hero? What do you think about the isolated setting as a way of creating characters and establishing isolation? Do you prefer him in front or behind the camera?  If you had room to pack only one Clint Eastwood film, which one could you see over and over? Ahh, now which film is his BEST film? 

I encourage you to comment to all who have visited. That’s the fun of discussion.

61 thoughts on “L13FC: Clint Eastwood as the Isolated Hero

Add yours

  1. I prefer him as an actor. I also prefer him away from the western genre, as I rarely enjoy those films of his, with The Outlaw Josey Wales being one exception, (as well as The Beguiled) as it was set in the Civil War. But choosing a favourite is hard. There are those when he has a hint of humour, (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Kelly’s Heroes, and the ‘Clyde’ films) and some darker roles, like Tightrope. His all-American hard man, as in Line Of Fire and Gran Torino is a staple, much like his western roles, but in modern dress.
    I actually liked him being rather cool, and very vulnerable, in Play Misty For Me.
    So, I choose that.
    Thanks as always for an enjoyable L13FC, You and John did a great job!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Well, John couldn’t co-host due to his schedule, but I did want to share his thoughts just because he’s smart and interesting.
      Regarding your choices, yes, I liked him cool and vulnerable. I enjoyed Bridges of Madison County, Play Misty For Me, and I am glad you mentioned Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. I enjoyed him In the Line of Fire (Malkovich was a great villain) and Space Cowboys. Million Dollar Baby is probably my favorite. I was surprised and glad he showed the hero of the “enemy” in Letters from Iwo Jima. He gets to the heart of his characters. There’s something charming about an irascible grouch turning soft while maintaining his manhood. He’s the king, there.

      1. I got that John was busy, but included him as you left in his thoughts. 🙂 x
        Brides of Madison County was so sad, but might have worked just as well, with any two good actors.

          1. I agree that The Changeling is an underrated film. Perhaps Joile’s best performance too. (I don’t like her that much) Also ‘Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima, both powerful war films, and refusing to glorify the experience. Mystic River was very dark and moody, The Rookie, a good ‘buddy film’, and of course he also directed my choice, Play Misty For Me. I do own most of his films on DVD, whether acted in, directed, or both.
            I confess that I didn’t care much for Million Dollar Baby. That’s just about me and Hilary Swank though.
            As ever, Pete. x

          2. I’m not a Jolie fan myself, but I felt she gave a memorable performance. (I think she was nominated for an Oscar?) Swank is not the least bit sexy or charismatic, but her physical ability to tackle hard roles and produce emotionally makes her one of the best, in my book. She and Eastwood had a genuine father-daughter relationship on the screen. I always cry when I watch it. And laugh.

            I’m curious about his upcoming hero film, the true story of CA passengers who overtook terrorists on a French train, “The 15:17 to Paris”. Sure reeks of WII2 with the Yanks coming to save the day.
            http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-mn-clint-eastwood-film-20170712-story.html

          3. They will have to pad out that event a great deal, to make a film based on it. Still, nothing new about ‘padding’. 🙂 x
            Jolie was indeed nominated for ‘The Changeling’, and deservedly so.

          4. The, the “definite article”, can cause some confusion.

            “Jolie was indeed nominated for ‘The Changeling’, and deservedly so.”

            Eastwood’s 2008 film starring Jolie is simply ‘Changeling’. Not to be confused with, ‘The Changeling’, Peter Medak’s downright chilling 1980 masterwork with George C. Scott. Sorry, I notice this like I do with ‘Unforgiven’, Clint’s first Best Picture and Director-awarded work, and ‘The Unforgiven’ by John Huston, which starred Burt Lancaster and my favorite Hepburn, Audrey. 😉

          5. In ‘Changeling’, Jolie gave a nice homage to her director in the closing scene — a tip of her hat à la Clint from a few of his westerns.

            <

            blockquote>”Also ‘Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima, both powerful war films, and refusing to glorify the experience.”
            I couldn’t agree more.

            ‘The Rookie’ is a bit ridiculous, the action and the plotting, but its buddyness and sheer over-the-top joy of it all, to say nothing of the scene-chewing goodness of the late-Raul Julia and Sonia Braga, makes up for it and is just so watchable. 🙂

    1. Welcome Don. I think one’s choice depends on the character’s personality or the message. I think I love Million Dollar Baby so much because of his relationship with the female boxer. I loved the father-daughter angle and Morgan, well, the thre were a family.
      Others might like his kick-ass hard guy, but I like the grouchy soft characters he has played best.

  2. I’ll quote some from a anniversary piece I wrote for PLAY MISTY FOR ME:

    “Clint Eastwood has always been a fascinating actor to me ever since watching him on TV’s Rawhide series as a boy. He never appeared to he doing much on-screen (on TV or his early movies), looking towering and brooding, but ever cocksure. That is, till you observed carefully and found he was doing more than you ever thought. Tall, lanky, and good-looking, he possessed the rare quality of being attractive to women, and yet having a majority of men wanting to be exactly like him (and all without a hint of resentment). Plus, he was just plain cool; all the while he was kicking your ass, that is. He built a career in film in many ways like that of other movie and western icons, John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Still, in another manner, he was quite different from that duo and decidedly more in-tune to this era, which was very much the Sexy Seventies. Besides, Gary Cooper never directed. Wayne did, but he never developed as much as he may have wanted to — perhaps, being held back under the shadow of his mentor, John Ford. Only Eastwood ever rose to being the world’s biggest star and box office champ, and enjoy an accomplished directorial career that almost rivaled the former.”

    I’d agree his isolationist persona has been an intriguing one onscreen, especially how it causes others to respond. Either in character interactions pushing him away or pulling the foolish galoot back in. Why I likely use his two greatest westerns, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and UNFORGIVEN, as answers to “…which one could you see over and over? Ahh, now which film is his BEST film?”, respectively.

    Other thoughts on the films already mentioned…
    BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY — an amazing film adaptation and result for an infuriatingly overhyped novel
    HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER — a still under-appreciated supernatural western that had something to say about capitalism
    THE BEGUILED — had to know Eastwood was sure of himself to play the charismatic villain of the tale
    KELLY’S HEROES & WHERE EAGLES DARE — the Brian G. Hutton collaborations that made for the most fun war films
    IN THE LINE OF FIRE — I second how good this film is
    ABSOLUTE POWER — an entertaining thriller (once again paired with the great Gene Hackman) that actually was better than the novel
    SPACE COWBOYS — one of the great things Clint did was to embrace aging and put centerstage
    MILLION DOLLAR BABY — great film, but pretty damn devastating; one of very few of his I’ve only seen once (maybe because I’m a father with a daughter)
    THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT — still my favorite Michael Cimino film; yeah, including THE DEER HUNTER and HEAVEN’S GATE, so there! 😉
    SULLY — a surprisingly different take of an heroic, true-life event that “Hollywood” would have done differently, but Eastwood’s was better; mark of a true filmmaker.

    Great L13 subject, Cindy. Look forward to reading the comments.

    1. Well, Michael! I must have hit a nerve. I appreciate the thought-provoking, in-depth response. The Accused with Hackman as the villain is marvelous. ABSOLUTE POWER — never saw it! I must rectify that. Did you see my last post about 71 The Beguiled? I loved him in that one. The Outlaw of Josey Wales and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly are what I think of first when I think of Clint. I forgot to mention Two Mules for Sister Sarah (I adore Shirley!) for combining the dusty, sober look of his face with some light-hearted comedy. For military, I will never forget Heartbreak Ridge.
      As a director, I loved The Changeling and Mystic River.
      There’s just too much to say.

      1. Should have mentioned ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’ is my fave Sergio Leone film, too. Need to go back and check out your BEGUILED post. Given the poor box office, I was surprise how captivating ‘Changeling’ was, and NOT sorry to say, ‘Mystic River’ should have won Best Picture over ‘Return of the King’ (with its five false endings). 😉

          1. I agree with John. If you’re not going to see ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ (I’ll be there tomorrow), rent ‘Absolute Power’. Heck, I’d lend you mine, if it gets you to watch it. 😉

          2. Okay! I just watched it. A lot of fun. Great cast and I see similar themes — the loner, the complicated love relationship with his daughter, the half-hidden, in the dark shots as the director. Some of the dialogue was stilted (secret service and Ed Harris lines) but for the most part, I was engaged throughout. Thank you!

  3. First of all, I wish I could have taken part in this, Cindy, and I really want to do one of the next ones – Clint has a long history of “isolated heroes” – one film not mentioned yet I don’t think is “A Different World”, where Kevin Costner is a criminal “on the run” and Clint is the lone cop bringing him in…here’s a great anecdote about Clint as Director – he shoots a scene and moves on – no muss, no fuss, he is well known to ALWAYS finish a movie ahead of schedule and under budget. Well, Costner was just off his Oscar wins for “Dancing With Wolves” and was a prima donna at the time (he’s great now) – he refused to come out of his trailer because of some stupid moviemaking thing….well, he sat there for two hours and then came out – no one was around – he searched out the crew, which was filming. He asked what was going on and Clint said, and I paraphrase ” well if you don’t want to make the film that’s fine, but we are going to” and he went back to directing a scene! Costner didn’t give him trouble again!

    1. HaHaHa. I appreciate your inside knowledge of the industry and could share that story. Calm and collected. Not a hot head. I like that about him. I simply can’t imagine him screaming at someone (who knows, I bet one of his wives could tell a story or two 😉 ). ANYWAY, I would enjoy watching ‘A Different World’.
      What’s your favorite film of his acting?
      What’s your favorite film of his directing?
      Hey, everyone is busy and we all wear so many hats–I’m happy to have you participate in whatever capacity.
      YES, we should co-host in the future. You have a lot of obsessions.

      1. Play Misty For Me was his first directing job, and he showed a love for cinema and storytelling, and smaller films like “Honkeytonk Man” showed that he was always exploring new ways to tell a story – and his westerns are all GREAT

          1. Augment. Great word. Music is so important to Eastwood. You wouldn’t expect a gruff loner to play Jazz so well on the piano. I like it when he features himself and songs into the score. (In the Line of Fire, Gran Torino)

          2. Yes, and his “first time Director” status is perhaps why we got to listen to a full 5 minutes of the Monterey Jazz Festival in the middle of the film!

        1. I can’t think of another actor/director who has made more of an influence in Hollywood–dare I say ever??? Orson Welles?
          Who else can match the quality and influence of both acting and directing?

          1. I just read it and commented, but it’s listed as anonymous. Okay, so Welles was too brief a superstar and his influence tapered off as the decades rolled on. Clint is more popular than ever.

          2. Cindy, as I answered your other note, each era in film, including today, has marketing tools used to sell through a film – elements of “sex knives and blood” run through any number of Clint movies as well – it’s how these dramatic devices are used – and who is being victimized

    1. Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that, Derrick. My best wishes to you as you grapple with your loss. The Outlaw of Josey Wales is one of his best films. I like that Eastwood characters seem tough, but they suffer from relationships. His pain places him at the periphery of the real world as everyone around him carries on under the sun while he’s at war within himself. It resonates.

      1. To clarify, John, because I feel like I sound like a prude and contradictory. There are degrees to which a director incorporates sex and violence in the storytelling. I prefer insinuation and infrequency. I think you can tell a story with violence and sex in it without going over-the-top. That’s my personal preference. Take Mel Gibson films–he loves blood and violence and makes powerful films which I enjoy (Apocalypto and Hacksaw Ridge). I focus on the story and try to ignore the in-your-face grisly scenes. Same with GoT and The Vikings.

  4. I really like Clint Eastwood. As you’ve pointed out, he’s extremely adept at playing an isolated induvidual. Even as Dirty Harry, he is somewhat isolated because he isn’t by the book. I guess Eastwood must just have a big rebellious streak in him.

  5. At the risk of alienating my American friends, allow me to suggest that the leading question posed here has a built-in pro-Hollywood ethnocenricity that may not be shared so enthusiastically elsewhere. Personally, I see him as a Hollywood celebrity caricature who by and large plays himself in whatever movie he is found. Like other American Westerns icons of a bygone era, he represents a fixed set of masculinist values and attributes: toughness, bravery, disdain for conformity, etc. He is a manufactured commodity and I find it difficult to find expressive nuance, sensitivity or emotional range in the way he fills a role. In that sense, he is a walking, talking Hollywood cliche. Sorry.

    1. Welcome, Richard. A manufactured commodity. A cliche. Add another synonym–a stereotype. I have no problems with that. If you like the image ( I grew up with males admiring John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe.) and they define masculinity or femininity for you, they will resonate. I personally don’t care that much for JW or MM. Eastwood resonates with me because I admire that quiet, strong man who takes care of business without asking for attention. Especially as he aged and veered away from the early spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry. Many times his charactersadored his wife, did his job well, and protected what he valued was important. Those “manly” qualities I admire. In Million Dollar Baby, when he sat in the pew and wept, it was the first time I saw him do that and I melted. No, no, I would not say he has the breadth of an emotional actor. He does a lot by standing still (like Steve McQueen). I’m still captivated when he’s on the screen.
      As a director, there’s a lot for me to admire. His camera shots (choosing to obscure half the body or the face) his appreciation for the arts, his consistently choosing strong women in roles to enhance the film–well the double dose elevates him from being a manufactured commodity. He’s an original.
      Always happy to hear from you, Richard.

    2. I, too, welcome and appreciate your honest sentiments, Richard. I don’t feel any actor, filmmaker, and/or celebrity is untouchable, certainly to sincere criticism. Eastwood’s body of work, the Hollywood studio system, and American culture make that a given. I may echo Cindy’s comment somewhat, and I don’t expect my thoughts to change yours. Still, I imagine similar can be said for equivalent counterpart actor-directors in Europe, Asia, and Austrlasia in that they reflect back their own ethnocentricities. That said, they’re all unique.

      ”Like other American Westerns icons of a bygone era, he represents a fixed set of masculinist values and attributes: toughness, bravery, disdain for conformity, etc. He is a manufactured commodity and I find it difficult to find expressive nuance, sensitivity or emotional range in the way he fills a role. In that sense, he is a walking, talking Hollywood cliche.”

      Same could be said, and likely has, about John Wayne, and the mold director John Ford fashioned him; certainly a product of his time and culture. And the one Eastwood most often was compared to from the start. I can see your point, Richard. Both are a hyper-masculine, alpha male-type breed, which is automatically a limiting factor. Pigeon-holing what’s offered early in their careers.

      Where I think Eastwood broke away from that mold, as Cindy noted earlier, was in unique ways, and, believe it or not, unlikely roles. Wayne and Eastwood stuck to the standard (for us, granted) hero-based genres: the western, war, and police dramas, with a comedy or two thrown in. Yet, Clint gravitated to the anti-hero personas, with Sergio Leone’s assistance — something I doubt Wayne would tackle. And he did have his chances for this given he was still putting out movies during the heyday of the ‘70s.

      As well, even though Wayne was around during the prime of American film noir, he steered away from ambiguity and unforeseen consequences. Eastwood did the opposite. Only have to look at his central roles and nourish qualities in Unforgiven and Tightrope to see that. Hell, look at Bronco Billy for turning the aura of the cowboy on its head, and perhaps giving it an eccentric positive for those who dream, in a totaling unexpected comedy.

      Even offered innate criticism to masculinity, especially our version of testosterone poisoning, with White Hunter, Black Heart. And even though he didn’t star in it, what about the anti-war message delivered in Letters From Iwo Jima? Not something an icon like John Wayne would even have gone near. In front or behind the camera. How about questioning man-whoring behavior with Play Misty For Me? Even daring to throw audiences for a loop by hinting his sexuality was a tad more open than they’d want to imagine in Tightrope.

      All I’m saying is Clint Eastwood was not as much of a cliche as some surmise. Peace.

      1. You make several very interesting points, thank you. We are not here to change anyone’s view of anything, but it is good to hear from Eastwood fans what exactly they find so appealing. I’m particularly impressed with your comments about the “anti-hero personas” and the inclusion of “ambiguity and unforeseen consequences” into Eastwood narratives. I’ll need to re-watch a few with fresh eyes. Nice chatt’n.

        1. Richard, you express yourself with grace. A pleasant exchange of differences is what a healthy discussion is all about. You and Michael are role models for how I imagined this forum to be. One time I lost a dear friend because he could not refrain from crossing that invisible line where he took the conversation to a personal level and became supercilious and a bully all because he was a film critic and felt he had the upper hand. Not you!

  6. Easy to see why we missed you Cindy; I think our disagreements are even more enjoyable that the occasional meeting of minds. Thank you for conceding the point about cliches and stereotypes; they are after all the essence of Hollywood films. Allow me one small reply. My lack of enthusiasm for Eastwood might in part reflect an outsider’s view about the hero-culture (closely tied to the gun culture) that is such an important part of the American film tradition and your national faith in individualism. From other parts of the world, this tradition does not sit so comfortably. Perhaps non-Americans look for softer heroes with a wider emotional range than we see within even modern genre conventions.

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