Regardless of his politics, which painted a bit of a target on his back in the last election, there's no question that Clint Eastwood will be remembered, and remembered fondly, as one of Hollywood's most monumental figures. His name became synonymous with the western genre for modern audiences thanks to the "Man With No Name" trilogy he made with Sergio Leone, only for him to redefine himself as the quintessential no-nonsense American police officer with the Dirty Harry series. Meanwhile, almost while audiences weren't paying attention, Eastwood exercised his craft behind the camera, and transformed himself yet again in 2000s through to the present as a director of major prestige pictures. To accompany the 35 pictures Eastwood has made with Warner Bros., Eastwood's biographer and well-known film critic Richard Schickel crafted this, an hour-long documentary about Eastwood's directing career.
For about fifteen minutes, Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story plays like a studio piece, a glossy and upbeat look at Eastwood designed to play to people who are already fans. As it progresses, however, the memories of the participants involved and increased focus on Schickel's part helps legitimize and add substance to the piece. In addition to Eastwood himself, the list of participants is long and prestigious: fellow directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Hyams, producers Brian Grazer and David Valdes, writers David Webb Peoples, Paul Haggis, and John Lee Hancock, editor Joel Cox, and actors Kevin Bacon, Kevin Costner, Judi Dench, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Marcia Gay Harden, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, Tim Robbins, Meryl Streep, and Hilary Swank.
True to the title, Eastwood Directs is at its best when focused on Eastwood the filmmaker. Some of the early sections lean more toward Eastwood as a person, and this material can feel a little canned or promotional, like EPKs where everyone comments how great it was to work with everyone else, with the added emptiness of Clint being humble and self-deprecating. It's not particularly meaningful to know that Clint wouldn't cut in the craft services line and doesn't employ a bodyguard -- it's better to let Clint's soft-spoken, kindly public demeanor speak for itself than to try and tell the viewer about it. Logically, it's not a piece that viewers are likely to stumble upon without advance interest, so there's no need for Schickel to "pitch" him to the audience.
Thankfully, Schickel finds his footing by looking at a few of Clint's most notable films chronologically, which provides a nice arc and centers the stories. Streep, Hackman, Swank, and Bacon all comment on the subtetly and simplicity of Eastwood's direction, and Schickel has a snippet of B-roll from the set of Million Dollar Baby to back them up. The most interesting passage finds Streep talking about Eastwood's vulnerability in choosing to make The Bridges of Madison County -- it's a shame Clint doesn't really chime in on the experience. David Webb Peoples also marvels at Eastwood's lack of ego in tackling a film, recounting how Eastwood worked with him in revising Unforgiven, only to cut all of his revisions out of the finished picture. Without too much effort, Schickel paints a portrait of Eastwood the simple, consummate professional, and, in a nice touch, leaves his own laughter in at some of the participants' stories, which adds a measure of personality to such a polished piece.
Unsurprisingly, Eastwood Directs doesn't have anything particularly critical to say about the man. Most of the actors interviewed struggle to remember an incident where Clint got heated, eventually compiling a list of "outbursts" that add up to about a minute per picture. Eastwood talks very briefly about the risks of making Million Dollar Baby, and the lack of American awareness of Nelson Mandela in relation to Invictus, plus Scorsese and Grazer talk for a bit about the financial failure of J. Edgar, but that's about it, and Eastwood never talks about struggling on a movie, if he ever has. Nonetheless, by the time the hour is over, Eastwood Directs has revealed itself as more than a puff piece, weaving together some insight on an intriguingly complex and unique filmmaker.
The DVD, Video, Audio, and Extras
DVDTalk was sent a screener disc in a paper sleeve, so the packaging cannot be assessed and the A/V quality of the final product may differ, although final specs should include 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese subtitles.
More importantly, Eastwood Directs is actually part of a double feature, with an extended version of Schickel's other documentary, the 90-minute 2010 piece The Eastwood Factor. DVDTalk was not sent this disc to review, meaning the final product actually contains twice the value of the content covered here. Additionally, considering this doc is a supplement in and of itself, there are no additional extras on the disc.
Although DVDTalk did not receive half of the content for this release, the two docs absolutely represent a substantial behind-the-scenes package for fans of Eastwood, and if The Eastwood Factor is as strong as Eastwood Directs, a worthwhile one as well. Considering the bargain-basement price for this release, this makes for an easy recommendation to viewers interested in hearing from a wide and diverse range of colleagues and collaborators.
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