Friday, January 23, 2015

Eastwood's Handling of Violence

Clint Eastwood has struck commercial and critical success once more with American Sniper. It is a gritty war movie that has Ezra Klein and Seth Rogen queasy. Rogen tweeted without irony that Eastwood's Sniper was like the fake film at the end of Inglourious Basterds. I assume Rogen did not watch the other hour long blood and guts routine that was Basterds. Those were murdered Nazis, so it was okay. With a Democrat in the Oval Office, it is acceptable to release pro-military and pro-empire films whether Seal movies, OBL raid movies, weird WW2 tank films or even the plethora of superhero movie films that support the USG empire. Good for Clint, like he needs it after a career spanning decades and multiple Oscars. The theme in Eastwood's directing career that is contra to his acting career is interesting and one that centers on violence. Eastwood is a director forever trying to explain the responsibility and burden that comes with being strong or violent that his acting roles may have downplayed.

Dirty Harry shoots thugs and psychopaths to death. It is not hard. They are criminals and bad. He is the police officer sworn to serve and protect. Shitlibs in San Francisco's political bureacracy were getting in his way of doing what was right; kill bad guys. His western films were fun and moody, but once again, he had a goal and was right. A duel settled things. The strong, and in some cases the strong and crafty, survive. Point, shoot and the job is done. He did that for multiple decades. Millions sat in seats, taking it in and feeling that he was delivering justice. In the unraveling post-68 era, he was delivering justice the elites were too weak to execute. Lights up, and the comment is, "Why don't we have more guys like that in real life".

That is what makes the movies he directed interesting. American Sniper is about how being good at your job at killing people in a war zone requires a lot of mental training and effort. There is a burden to pulling the trigger. Mystic River and Million Dollar baby show people weaving in and out of a violent environment, and a step outside the norms or in the grey zone can kill an innocent. Go back further. Play Misty for Me is about a stalker who Eastwood's lead does not properly handle and even enjoys the attention at first , but she eventually kills. His Western directorial debut is High Plains Drifter, which is about a man or a ghost avenging a horrible murder. That film even offers flashbacks to individuals for the murder, insinuating the weakness in many people when facing a Dirty Harry situation. Unforgiven is the peak of that idea where the glory and machismo is stripped naked by reality. Hackman's "Little Bill" jailhouse tales to the writer pokes holes at the Western mythology. Hackman was a villain in that film, but Eastwood does a good job or portraying the incredibly tough balance that small town sheriff's faced in the West.

The world is a grey place. Many people in their homes segregated far from our armed forces or in their suburban enclaves do not realize the blood and stress that goes with maintaining order. Watching Foxcatcher, I heard the crowd gasp at certain violent spots... at a movie about wrestling. Maybe Eastwood has felt some guilt over portraying the swaggering strong man armed with a six shooter and the will to pull the trigger. Perhaps he feared he was not telling the whole story and letting Hollywood tell too sanitized and clean a picture of what it takes to make it out of a gunfight. If his directing efforts are about the burden of those who perform violent acts, Eastwood is shouldering the burden he feels for glorifying violence throughout his acting career.  American Sniper is just the latest in his resume to receive accolades, but it is also his latest in exploring the mind and soul behind the finger that lays on the trigger.

No comments: