10 Oscar Snubs From the 1970s

Ah, the 70s. The decade started with the collapse of the studio system and the rise of the so-called movie brats. For the first half of the decade, Hollywood was producing the type of challenging films on which they would never again be willing to take the risk. The 70s were indeed a second cinematic golden age, full of anti-heroes and dark endings. Then, in 1977, Star Wars changed all of that and ushered in the era of the blockbuster. The 1970s gave the world disco, The Godfather, and some of the best Oscar winners ever.  It also gave us more than a few snubs.

1971: Dirty Harry Is Totally Ignored

Dirty Harry may be one of the most influential films ever made but the Academy totally snubbed it.  My guess is that, with The French Connection coming out that same year, the Academy only had room for one morally amibiguous cop film in its heart.  Still, Dirty Harry has certainly held up better than the nominated Nicholas and Alexandra.  Both Clint Eastwood and Andrew Robinson gave performances that were award-worthy as well.  Say what you will about Eastwood’s range, I defy anyone not to smile at the way Harry snarls when he discovers that the man he’s talking to teaches a constitutional law course at Berkley.

1971: Gimme Shelter Is Not Nominated For Best Documentary Feature

Considering that Woodstock won the Documentary Oscar the previous year, it only seems appropriate the Gimme Shelter should have won the following year.  In the end, the Academy decided to celebrate the best of the 60s while snubbing the worst of it.

1972: Burt Reynolds Is Not Nominated For Deliverance

If you’ve ever seen Deliverance, you know how important a character Lewis Medlock (played by Burt Reynolds) was.  Not only was he the one who persuaded everyone to spend the weekend risking their lives on a canoeing trip but he also set the standard for “manlinness” that the rest of his friends tried to live up to.  When Lewis ends up getting a compound fracture and is forced to spend the rest of the film deliriously lying in a canoe, it’s a reminder that nature and fate don’t care how confident or outspoken you are.  Reynolds was perfectly cast.  1972 was a strong year with a lot of worthwhile nominations and, to be honest, there’s really not a bad or an unworthy performance to be found among the acting nominees.  Still, it’s hard not to feel that the Academy should have found some room for Burt Reynolds.

1974: John Huston Is Not Nominated For Chinatown

In the role of Chinatown‘s Noah Cross, John Huston gave one of the great villainous performances.  Cross represented pure avarice and moral decay, a man who committed terrible crimes but who, the film suggested, was also responsible for creating not only modern Los Angeles but also providing a home for Hollywood.  Admittedly, there were a lot of good performances to choose from and I certainly can’t complain that the Academy awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor to Robert De Niro, who deserved it.  Still, in retrospect, John Huston’s evil turn was at least as strong as Fred Astaire’s likable (and nominated) turn in The Towering Inferno.

1974 and 1975: John Cazale Is Not Nominated For Best Supporting Actor

John Cazale had a brief but legendary career.  A noted stage actor, Cazale made his film debut in 1972 with The Godfather.  He played Fredo, the Corleone son who couldn’t get any respect.  He final film, released after his early death from cancer, was 1978’s The Deer Hunter.  Cazale appeared in a total of five films, every one of which was nominated for Best Picture.  That this talented actor was never nominated for an Oscar just doesn’t seem right.  But for which film should he have been nominated?

Godfather Part II received three nominations for Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro, Lee Strasberg, and Michael V. Gazzo.  Personally, I would probably replace Gazzo with Cazale.  Cazale’s performance as Fredo was one of the strongest parts of Godfather Part II.  Who can forget Fredo’s legendary meltdown about always being overlooked?  I would also say that Cazale deserved a nomination for his performance in Dog Day Afternoon, in which he played Sal and provided the film with some of its saddest and funniest moments.  Neither Fredo nor Sal survive their films and, in both cases, it’s impossible not to feel that they deserved better than the world gave them.

1975: Steven Spielberg Is Not Nominated For Jaws

Seriously, what the Heck?  Jaws totally reinvented the movies.  It received a deserved nomination for Best Picture but the true star of the film, Steven Spielberg, was somehow not nominated.

1976: Martin Scorsese is Not Nominates For Taxi Driver

Seriously, what the Heck?  Taxi Driver totally reinvented the movies.  It received a deserved nomination for Best Picture but the true star of the film, Martin Scorsese, was somehow not nominated.

1977: Harrison Ford Is Not Nominates For Star Wars

Harrison Ford, despite having had the type of career for which most actors would sacrifice their soul, has never had much success with the Oscars.  He’s been nominated exactly once, for Witness.  That he’s never won an Oscar just feels wrong.  The fact that he wasn’t even nominated for playing either Han Solo or Indiana Jones feels even more wrong.  In the role of Solo, Ford bring some much needed cynicism to Star Wars.  His decision to return and help the Rebels destroy the Death Star is one of the best moments in the film.

1978: National Lampoon’s Animal House Is Totally Ignored

This film deserved a nomination just for the scene in which John Belushi destroyed that annoying folk singer’s guitar.  Seriously, though, this is another film that, more or less, defined an era.  I’m not saying it deserved to win but it at least deserved a few nominations.

1979: Dawn of the Dead Is Not Nominated For Best Picture

Considering the Academy’s general resistance to honoring horror, it’s not really a shock that Dawn of the Dead was not nominated for Best Picture but still, it would have been nice if it had happened.

Agree?  Disagree?  Do you have an Oscar snub that you think is even worse than the 10 listed here?  Let us know in the comments!

Up next: The 80s arrive and the snubs continue!

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

Film Review: In The Line of Fire (dir by Wolfgang Petersen)

Earlier today, it was announced that director Wolfgang Petersen had passed away.  He was 81 years old and had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.  Though Petersen started his career making films in his native Germany (and his 1981 film, Das Boot, remains the most Oscar-nominated German film of all time), Petersen eventually relocated to Los Angeles and established himself as a very successful director of thrillers and star-filled action films.

Last month, I watched one of Petersen’s films.  First released in 1993, In The Line of Fire stars Clint Eastwood as Frank Horrigan.  Frank is a veteran member of the Secret Service, still serving at a time when almost all of his colleagues have either retired or died.  When we first meet Frank, he and his new partner, Al (Dylan McDermott), are arresting a gang of counterfeiters and Frank (and the then 63 year-old Eastwood) is proving that he can still take down the bad guys.

But is Frank still up to protecting the President?  Of the agents that were with President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963, Frank Horrigan is the last one standing.  He’s the only active secret service agent to have lost a president and he’s haunted by what he sees as being his failure to do his job and the feeling that America has never recovered from Kennedy’s death.  Also obsessed with Frank’s history is a mysterious man who calls himself Booth.  Booth (played by John Malkovich, who received an Oscar nomination for his performance) starts to call Frank.  He informs Frank that he’s planning on assassinating the president, who is currently traveling the country as a part of his reelection bid.  Booth views Frank as being a worthy adversary and Frank, looking for redemption, requests to be returned to the Presidential Protective Division.

While Frank struggles to keep up with both the President and the younger agents, Booth slowly and methodically puts his plan in motion.  He builds his own wooden gun and tries it out on two hunters who are unfortunate enough to stumble across him.  Making a heart-breaking impression in a small role, Patrika Darbo plays the bank teller who, unfortunately, comes a bit too close to uncovering Booth’s secret identity.  Booth is friendly and sometimes apologetic and he quickly shows that he’s willing to kill anyone.  It’s a testament to both the skill of Malkovich’s performance and Petersen’s direction that the audience comes to believe that there’s a better than average chance that Booth will succeed.  He just seems to have such a strong belief in himself that the audience knows that he’s either going to kill the President or that he’s going to willingly die trying.

Meanwhile, no one believes in Frank.  The White House Chief of Staff (Fred Dalton Thompson, later to serve in the Senate and run for President himself) views Frank as being a nuisance.  The head of the detail (Gary Cole) thinks that Frank should be put out to pasture.  Only Lilly Raines (Rene Russo), another agent, seems to have much faith in Frank.  While Frank is hunting Booth, he falls in love with Lilly and she with him.  (Fortunately, even at the age of 63, Eastwood still had enough of his old Dirty Harry charisma that the film’s love story is credible, despite the age difference between him and Russo.)  The hunt for Booth reawakens something in Frank.  Just as Booth has a psychological need to be pursued and challenged, Frank needs an enemy to which he can re-direct all of his guilt and self-loathing.  Frank becomes a stand-in for everyone who fears that, because of one particular incident or tragedy, America will never regain the strength and promise that it once had.  (In Frank’s case, that strength is symbolized by his idealized memories of JFK.)  Defeating Booth is about more than just saving America.  It’s about redeeming history.

It all makes for an very exciting thriller, one in which Eastwood’s taciturn style of acting is perfectly matched with Malkovich’s more cerebral approach.  Just as the two characters are challenging each other, Eastwood and Malkovich also seem to challenge each other as actors and it leads to both men giving wonderful performances.  Wolfgang Petersen not only does a good job with the action scenes but also with generating some very real suspense.  The scene in which Malkovich attempts to assemble his gun under a table is a masterclass in directing and evidence that Petersen had not only watched Hitchcock’s films but learned from them as well.

As directed by Petersen and performed by Malkovich and Eastwood, In The Line of Fire emerges as a film that was more than just an exciting thriller.  It was also a mediation on aging, guilt, love, redemption, and the national traumas of the past.  It’s a film that stands up to multiple rewatches and as a testament to the talent of the man who directed it.

AMV of the Day: Clint Eastwood (Soul Eater)

Hey, it is Clint Eastwood’s birthday after all.

Anime: Soul Eater

Song: Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz

CreatorIgnis andVengeance (as always, please consider subscribing to this creator’s YouTube channel)

Past AMVs of the Day

Cleaning Out The DVR: Breezy (dir by Clint Eastwood)

1973’s Breezy tells the story of two seemingly different people.

Breezy (Kay Lenz) is a teenage girl who moves to California after she graduates high school.  Breezy is intelligent and free-spirited.  She’s also practically homeless, moving from bed to bed and never getting tied down to anyone.  Many people assume that Breezy is a runaway but her parents died a long time ago and her aunt approves of Breezy pursuing her own happiness.  Many people also assume that Breezy is a hippie but Breezy doesn’t consider herself to be one and doesn’t even smoke weed.  She may hang out with hippies and runaways but, for the most part, Breezy just wants to be herself, free of all of society’s labels and hang-ups.

Frank Harmon (William Holden) is a fifty-something real estate agent.  He drives a nice car.  He owns a lovely home.  He has money but he’s also freshly divorced and obviously in love with his best friend, Betty (Marj Dusay).  Most people would consider Frank to be a part of the establishment, though it soon becomes clear that he’s as disillusioned as any long-haired protestor.  Frank has reached the point of his life where he looks at everything that he has and he asks, “Is this all there is?”

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they fall in love.  Breezy ends up outside of Frank’s house after escaping a creepy man who had earlier offered her a ride.  When she sees that Frank is getting into his car and driving into the city, she decides that Frank can give her a ride too.  She also decides to keep hanging out near Frank’s house.  Though Frank is initially annoyed by Breezy’s presumptuousness, he still allows her to spend the night when a sudden storm comes up.  Frank and Breezy become unlikely friends and eventually, even more.  But Frank continues to worry about the difference in their ages, especially when his friends find out that Breezy is living with him.

Really, Breezy is a film that should not work and it does run the risk of turning into a typical midlife crisis fantasy, with Breezy having no concerns beyond keeping Frank happy.  That the film does work is largely a testament to the performances of William Holden and Kay Lenz and the sensitive and nonexploitive direction of Clint Eastwood.  When screenwriter Jo Heims first wrote the script for Breezy, she envisioned Eastwood in the role of Frank.  Reading the script, Eastwood said that he could relate to Frank’s disillusionment but that he felt he was too young for the role.  Instead, Eastwood directed the film and he cast William Holden as Frank.  Breezy was Eastwood’s third film as a director and the first in which he didn’t star.  It was also nobody’s idea of what a Clint Eastwood film would be and it struggled at the box office.  That said, it’s a film that has a legion of devoted fans.  Paul Thomas Anderson is one of those fans and even worked a few references to the film into Licorice Pizza.

Holden and Lenz both give excellent performances, with Lenz playing Breezy as being free-spirited but not foolish.  Holden, meanwhile, captures Frank’s boredom without giving a boring performance.  (It helped that, while Holden was the right age of the role, he still retained enough of his good looks and his movie star swagger that it was believable that Breezy would find him attractive.)  Wisely, the film doesn’t make the mistake of idealizing either Frank or Breezy.  They’re both complex characters, with their own individual flaws and strengths.  At the end of the film, one can be forgiven for having doubts about whether or not they’ll still be together in a year or two but one does definitely wish them the best, no matter what happens.

Though politically conservative, Breezy reveals that Clint Eastwood had some sympathy for the counter-culture.  Eastwood has always straddled the line between being a member of establishment and being a rebel.  Like Breezy and Frank, he belongs to both worlds.

Film Review: Escape From Alcatraz (dir by Don Siegel)

The 1979 film, Escape from Alcatraz, opens with Clint Eastwood and a group of policeman taking a barge across San Francisco Bay, heading towards Alcatraz Island.  As any fan of Eastwood’s 1970s film work can tell attest, this is hardly the first time that Eastwood has gone across the bay to Alcatraz.  In The Enforcer, Eastwood went to Alcatraz to kill a bunch of hippies and save the Mayor of San Francisco.  It wasn’t easy but, fortunately, Clint found a rocket launcher.

However, in Escape from Alcatraz, it’s hard not to notice that Clint is wearing handcuffs.  And the cops beat him up while traveling to the island.  And once they reach the prison …. oh my God, they’re making Clint Eastwood walk down a prison hallway naked and shoving him into a cell!  Is this some early form of 60 Days In or could it be that Clint Eastwood is playing a convict?  After starting the 70s in the role of Dirty Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood ended the 70s playing one of the people who Callahan would have arrested.  (Or, if we’re going to be totally honest, shot.)

Specifically, Clint Eastwood is playing Frank Morris.  The real-life Morris was a career criminal.  He had a genius IQ but he loved to steal and he spent most of his known life in prison.  He was specifically sent to Alcatraz because he had a history of escaping from other prisons.  Because Alcatraz was sitting on an island in the middle of the difficult-to-cross San Francisco Bay, it had a reputation for being inescapable and, indeed, every previous escape attempt had failed and led to someone getting gunned down by the guards.  Morris, of course, immediately started to plot his escape.  Working with three other prisoners, Morris managed to tunnel his way out of the prison.  (Famously, Morris and his accomplices also managed to create papier-mâché dummy heads, which were left in their beds and kept the guards from realizing that they had escaped from their cells.)  No one knows whether Morris and his accomplices managed to cross the bay, though I think most people would prefer to think that they made it to freedom.  Our natural tendency is to root for the underdog, even if they are a group of car thieves fleeing from a federal prison.

For the most part, Escape from Alcatraz sticks to the facts of Morris’s escape.  Of course, because Frank Morris is played by Clint Eastwood, there’s never really much doubt as to whether or not he’s going to figure out a way to get out of the prison.  There’s not a prison in the world that could hold 70s-era Clint Eastwood! 

The casting of Eastwood, however, adds another layer to the story because Eastwood, especially at the time that Escape from Alcatraz was made, was the ideal representation of individualism.  From the minute the smug warden (played by Patrick McGoohan) tells Morris that it will be impossible to escape from Alcatraz, it becomes obvious why Morris has no other option but to escape.  The warden thinks that he can tell the prisoners what to do, when to talk, and what to think.  The warden expects his prisoners to live and act like monks who have taken a vow of silence but, instead of offering the hope of salvation, the warden is more concerned with exercising his own power.  The warden doesn’t flinch at taking away the rights of the prisoners, even after his actions lead to an otherwise harmless prisoner having a mental breakdown and chopping off his own fingers.  As such, Escape from Alctraz is not just another mid-budget, 70s action movie.  Instead, it’s the story of the State (represented by McGoohan) vs the Individual (represented by Eastwood).  It’s a film that says that yes, Frank Morris may be a criminal but he still has a right to his humanity.  Society may want to forget about the prisoners in Alcatraz but Frank Morris has no intention of being forgotten,

Escape from Alcatraz was Eastwood’s final collaboration with the director Don Siegel.  Siegel instinctively understood how to best use Eastwood’s laconic presence.  Siegel previously directed Eastwood in Dirty Harry, another film that featured a conflict between the State and the Individual.  Perhaps even more importantly, Siegel directed the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, another film in which one man struggles to maintain his humanity and his sense of self.  In many ways, both Alcatraz’s warden and the alien body snatchers are portrayed as having the same goal.  They both want to eliminate free will and human emotion.  In the end, the viewer doesn’t just want Morris to escape because he’s Clint Eastwood.  Instead, the viewer knows that Morris has to escape before he’s robbed of his soul.

(Sadly, Siegel and Eastwood had a bit of a falling out during the direction of Escape from Alcatraz, with Siegel apparently buying the rights to the story before Eastwood could purchase them in order to make sure that Siegel and not Eastwood would be credited as the film’s producer.  This led to a rift between the two men, one that was wasn’t healed before Siegel’s death in 1991.  However, even after their rift, Eastwood continued to say that everything he knew about directing, he learned from watching Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.  Unforgiven was dedicated to both of them.)

Escape from Alcatraz is an enjoyable and entertainingly tense action film, one that convinces us that prison is Hell and which also features one of Eastwood’s best performances.  (Like many actors, Eastwood seems to have more fun playing a rule-breaking rebel as opposed to an upholder of law and order.)  The supporting cast is also great, with McGoohan turning the warden into a truly hissable villain.  Fred Ward, Jack Thibeau, and Larry Hankin all make good impressions as Morris’s accomplices while Roberts Blossom will break your heart as a prisoner who just wants to be allowed to paint.

Personally, I don’t know if Frank Morris survived his escape attempt but I know that Clint Eastwood definitely did.

“Do ya feel lucky, Pilgrim?” What Dirty Harry Could Have Been

Paul Newman as San Francisco Police Detective Harry “Dirty Harry” Callahan?

Today, it sounds unthinkable that the outspokenly liberal Newman could ever have been a contender for the role of Harry Callahan, a police detective who is quick with a quip but even quicker on the trigger.  As everyone knows, Clint Eastwood played Harry and, as a result, he finally became as big of a star in the United States as he already was in Europe.  Today, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Clint Eastwood torturing the Scorpio Killer for information and then announcing himself to be “all torn up about his rights.”  Just try to imagine Paul Newman snarling as reflexively as Clint Eastwood did upon hearing that the whiny guy in the liberal office taught constitutional law at Berkeley.  Try to imagine Paul Newman calling someone “a punk” or bragging about the power of his gun.  It can’t be done.

And yet, as hard as it is to believe, Clint Eastwood was not the first choice for Harry Callahan.  In fact, Eastwood apparently wasn’t even on Warner Bros.’s list of contenders when they initially bought the rights for the script that would eventually become Dirty Harry.

Written by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink, that script was originally called Dead Right and it took place in New York.  In the original script, Harry Callahan was world-weary, veteran New York cop, in his 50s and just a few months away from retirement.  In the original script, Harry pursued a serial killer named Travis.  When Warner Bros. bought the script in 1969, they viewed it as being a potential vehicle for Frank Sinatra with Irvin Kershner directing.  (Kershner is probably best remembered for later directing The Empire Strikes Back.)  As was his habit, Sinatra immediately demanded rewriters.  John Milius wrote three drafts, each one expanding on the idea of Callahan as a rebel against the system.  Terrence Malick (yes, that Terrence Malick) was also brought it and came up with a storyline in which the serial killer would specifically be targeting mobsters and other people who had escaped justice.  Somewhere, amongst all the rewrites, the action moved from New York to Seattle.

After all that effort, why didn’t Frank Sinatra play Harry Callahan?  Reportedly, he broke his hand and, as a result, he was told that he wouldn’t be able to hold a microphone or a gun or anything else while it was healing.  Since you really can’t have Harry Callahan without a gun, Sinatra left the project and Irvin Kershner went with him.

While trying (unsuccessfully) to recruit Sidney Pollack as their new director, Warner Bros. searched for a new leading man.  Reportedly, the script ended up on John Wayne’s desk.  Wayne later said that he turned down the role because he felt the violence was gratuitous.  Other sources indicate that John Wayne actually was interested in the role but that the studio didn’t consider him to be contemporary enough.  (After the success of Dirty Harry, Wayne would play a similar cop character in McQ and would provide a hint of what Dirty Harry starring John Wayne would have been like.)  Burt Lancaster turned down the role because he didn’t like the script’s politics.  Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum both turned down the role because they refused to play cops.  George C. Scott reportedly refused the role because of the violence.  Marlon Brando was considered but, probably wisely, was never approached.

Having been turned down by all of the older tough guys, Warner Bros. went with the younger tough guys.  Steve McQueen turned down the role because he had already played a cop in Bullitt and he felt the critics would accuse him of repeating himself.  (He was probably right.)  Paul Newman refused the role on political grounds but, as he often tended to do whenever he turned down a role, he also recommended another actor for the part.  That actor was Clint Eastwood who was an old friend of Newman’s and who, obviously, had no problems with the film’s politics.

(Let’s take a moment to give some respect to Paul Newman, who was reportedly one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.)

Once Eastwood was on board, his requested that his friend and frequent collaborator, director Don Siegel, be hired to direct the film.  The script was again rewritten, moving the action to San Francisco and making Harry into a far less talkative character.  The serial killer known as Travis became the serial killer known as Scorpio.  The idea of the killer targeting criminals was abandoned at Siegel’s insistence, though Eastwood liked the idea enough to use it for Dirty Harry’s first sequel, Magnum Force.

Audie Murphy

Originally, James Caan was approached for the role of Scorpio but Caan turned it down (which, of course, left him free to play Sonny in The Godfather).  Perhaps most intriguingly, Audie Murphy was offered the role.  Murphy was one of the most decorated combat soldiers of World War II.  He had gone from the Army to appearing in movies.  By the time Dirty Harry went into production, Murphy was largely appearing in B-westerns and was as known for his temper as his films.  (He was acquitted of attempted murder shortly before filming began on Dirty Harry.  Murphy said that his anger issues were largely due to the trauma of World War II and he was one of the first prominent people to openly speak about what has since become known as PTSD.)  Murphy undoubtedly would have been an intimidating Scorpio but he died in a plane crash before he could accept or refuse the role.

Instead, the role went to Andrew Robinson, who an unknown at the time.  He was also, in real life, a pacifist who had difficulty not flinching whenever he had to fire a rifle in the film.  That said, Robinson gave a brilliantly unhinged performance as Scorpio and reportedly had to get an unlisted telephone number because of all the angry and threatening phone calls that he received after the movie was released.

Now, I have to admit that I personally find the idea of Frank Sinatra/James Caan or, for that matter, a John Wayne/Audie Murphy police procedural to be kind of intriguing.  And goodness know, I would certainly like a chance to see Marlon Brando doing the “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech.  In the end, though, I think things turned out for the best.

Scene That I Love: Clint Eastwood Tells Off The Motorcycle Cops in Magnum Force

Today, we celebrate the 92nd birthday of screen icon Clint Eastwood.

Of the many characters that Eastwood has played, Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan is one of the best-remembered and is still popular to this day.  When he first appeared, Dirty Harry was so willing to break the rules to bring the Scorpio Killer to justice that some critics accused 1971’s Dirty Harry as being a “fascist work of art.”  Callahan answered those critics in 1973’s Magnum Force, when he faced off against true fascism in the form of a group of vigilante motorcycle cops.  The motorcycle cops thought Harry would be happy to join them in their crusade to murder every criminal in San Francisco.

As Harry puts it when he runs into them in a parking garage. “I’m afraid you’ve misjudged me.”

Though Magnum Force never reaches the heights of the first Dirty Harry, the scene below is a classic and the line, “All our heroes are dead,” is one of the most important of the 70s.  (And, for that matter, the 2020s as well!)

Happy birthday, Clint Eastwood!

Scene That I Love: Lee Van Cleef Meets Klaus Kinski in For A Few Dollars More

In 1925, on this very date, Lee Van Cleef was born in Somervillve, New Jersey.  In honor of what would have been Lee Van Cleef’s 97th birthday, here he is with Klaus Kinski and Clint Eastwood in For A Few Dollars More.

There’s not a lot of dialogue in this scene but when you had actors like Eastwood, Kinski, and Lee Van Cleef, you didn’t need a lot of dialogue to make an impression.

Film Review: Cry Macho (dir by Clint Eastwood)

I like Clint Eastwood.

That can be a dangerous thing to admit nowadays. Clint is not a popular man on social media. The older critics have yet to forgive him for endorsing Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012, despite the fact that Eastwood’s empty chair speech was quite a bit tamer than some of the other criticisms and insults that were being lobbed at both Obama and Romney at the time. The younger critics are still angry that he made Richard Jewell, a film that was seen as criticizing the press at a time when Trump was doing the same thing, this despite the fact that Eastwood never endorsed Trump in 2016 or 2020. (Beyond having a strong individualistic streak, Eastwood’s films are usually apolitical.)

He’s one of those cultural figures that drives Twitter crazy. No one can deny that he’s a film icon and that he’s directed several good and a handful of great films. But, because he doesn’t seem to care what the online crowd thinks and probably isn’t even totally sure what Twitter is, there’s this need to try to tear him down. As such, I wasn’t surprised when his latest film, Cry Macho, received mixed reviews. At this point in the game, any film that Eastwood makes is going to be criticized.

Don’t get me wrong, of course. Sometimes, the criticism is correct, even if it is more motivated by personal animus than anything else. Some of his recent films have been a bit weaker than his earlier ones. I wasn’t a fan of Jersey Boys but I figured that Eastwood was in his 80s and he probably had always wanted to do a musical and, if anyone has earned the right to cross a few things off of his bucket list, it’s Clint Eastwood. Having the three men at the center of The 15:17 to Paris play themselves is something that worked better as an idea than in the actual execution. J. Edgar was a mess and so was Hereafter.

And yet, for every weak Eastwood film, there’s also a recent film that reminds us that he’s still a good director and that he’s still far more willing to explore new territory than some of his contemporaries. The Mule is a film that, like Cry Macho, received mixed reviews but which looks better with each subsequent viewing. Sully was a moving tribute to professionalism and grace under pressure and featured one of Tom Hanks’s best performances. American Sniper was far more nuanced that most critics were willing to admit. All of these films received mixed reviews, even the Oscar-nominated American Sniper. All of them have benefitted from reevaluation.

Will Cry Macho be another Eastwood film that will be embraced in later years? It’s too early to say but I think it will be. Now, again, don’t get me wrong. Some of the criticism that the film has received is justified. In Cry Macho, Clint plays a rodeo rider who, a year after being forced to retire due to a back injury, is hired to go down to Mexico and track down Rafo (Eduardo Minett), the teenage son of a wealthy businessman (Dwight Yoakam). Clint Eastwood is 91 years old and, let’s just be honest, he looks like he’s 91 years old as well. Thirty or even twenty years ago, Clint would have been perfect for the role of Mike Milo. Today, Clint is a bit too old for the role and it’s hard not to notice that, whenever Mike does throw a punch in the film, the scene is edited so that we see the fist and we see the results of the hit but we don’t actually see the punch itself. Clint is old in this film and, even more importantly, he comes across as being old.

But you know what? It almost doesn’t matter. He may be old but he’s still Clint Eastwood. He’s a pop cultural icon. He’s a legend. He epitomizes an era that Cry Macho acknowledges is coming to an end. It’s a bit of a meandering film. Though Rafo’s mother refuses to allow him to leave with Mike, Rafo still sneaks into Mike’s truck and travels with him to the border. Along the way, some men working for Rafo’s mother try to stop them from leaving Mexico. There are a few small action scenes but they’re not what the movie is about and it’s significant that this is a rare Eastwood film in which no one, not even the main bad guy, dies. Instead, the movie is about Mike and Rafo bonding on the road and discussing what it truly means to be macho. Mike is someone who has spent his entire life being “macho” but now he’s old and he’s broken down and he’s realizing that there’s more to life than just trying to live up to some sort of idealized version of manhood. Rafo is young and Mike is very old but, over the course of the movie, they both learn the same lesson. It’s okay to just be yourself. That may be a simple lesson but it’s one worth hearing.

As a director, Eastwood leaves room for the story to wander a bit but he still keeps the action moving at a steady pace. He gets good performances out of his cast. Despite being miscast, he still manages to gets a good performance from himself, though you may cringe a little at his insistence of still trying to present himself as being a romantic lead. (This was played for laughs in The Mule.) The film’s cinematography, courtesy of Ben Davis, is breathtaking. Even while helping Rafo leave the country, Mike falls in love with Mexico and, looking at the beautiful landscapes in this film, you can’t blame him. All in all, it’s a good film. If it had been made a few decades earlier, it would have been a great film but still, this is Eastwood at his most gentle and self-reflective. Future reviewers, free from the need to appease the online mob, will appreciate this film more than the modern ones.