Clint Eastwood’s Best Films as a Director
Clint Eastwood is a pillar of American culture. He has represented the perennial cowboy archetype to the degree that perhaps only John Wayne has, and could be said to be more representative of that essential American character than even the Duke himself.
Outside of cowboys, Clint has more or less created the modern action hero. With his portrayal of Dirty Harry and with films like Heartbreak Ridge he cemented himself as a symbol of masculinity.
While his acting achievements alone have immortalized him for as long as the United States and its culture are remembered (just think, we still know of Greek and Roman actors with much less to show over 2,000 years later), it is arguably his directorial work where his greatest achievements lie.
Not many know that nearly as soon as he was famous, just following the days of the Fistful of Dollars Series release in the states, he created his own production company. By 1971 Eastwood was directing his own films.
A debate over Clint Eastwood’s best movies would be a long drawn out affair; he has around 70 acting credits and 39 directorial credits, though some Clint Eastwood movies he both directed and starred in. Deciding on the best Clint Eastwood directed films, however, can be a little more manageable.
In no particular order, I want to list and discuss what I subjectively feel to be his best directorial showings.
American Sniper is a film depicting the life and struggles of Navy Seal Chris Kyle. The film immediately hit a nerve with the American populace dealing with over a decade of war. We had become hungry for heroes reaffirming our belief in our military machismo, and while there were no shortages of them in real life, the cinema had not brought any to life in such a way before. Clint Eastwood, if he understands anything, understands the aesthetic of American masculinity.
He doesn’t insult our post-Iraq understanding of war either. He balances the heroism and the psychological toll it exacts on the soldier – and does so in a way that does not take away from either the viewers or the characters portrayed vision of that strongman heroism.
Based on Kyle’s bestselling autobiography ‘American Sniper’, which you can read here on Geeker, Eastwood’s film was a big success, both in terms of box office sales and critical praise.
Old, racist and curmudgeonly – the main character of Gran Torino is a unique and surprising protagonist for modern American audiences. The first film to try and portray some aspects of the Laotian Hmong in America, this Eastwood starring and the directed film became his second most successful at the box office.
The story of redemption and modern American multicultural realities somehow was able to cast a 79-year-old as an action hero believably – perhaps something only Eastwood could pull off.
The story of Nelson Mandela and the end to apartheid told through the lens of a rugby team is one of the more moving and even-handed takes on that tumultuous time period. A story more or less alien to most Americans, the film is able to strike a chord on the point of race relations while simultaneously presenting the unlikely presence and achievements of Nelson Mandela.
Eastwood’s triumphant return to the American west was an homage to his departed mentors and friends Don Siegel and Sergio Leone, the ones who had cemented Eastwood as the cowboy with no name and Dirty Harry. The movie was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It won 4 academy awards.
Million Dollar Baby
The story of a boxing coach finding redemption through a new student isn’t a rare trope, but Eastwood finds a way to portray the story and characters in a way that makes it seem fresh and altogether inspiring. Hilary Swank does a great job representing the character Maggie and clashing with Eastwood on screen – she even put on 19lbs of muscle for the role.
Letters from Iwo Jima
A war story filmed by an American depicting the struggles of Japanese soldiers may seem like a strange occurrence, but when paired up with its counterpart film, Flags of Our Fathers, it becomes an essential piece (and arguably the better piece) of a true artistic achievement. The film tackles the ambiguity of good and evil in war and humanizes the men who fought and died on both sides.
This a departure from the types of films Eastwood is famous for, but is no less accomplished in its cinematic achievements. The story of mental health and female disempowerment in the 1920’s is a rare setting and one the film tackles with gusto.
The first film to win the best actor and best supporting actor since Ben Hur, Mystic River is a dramatic mystery thriller that keeps the tension high throughout. While other films display Eastwood’s ability to build characters or play with emotion, this film more than any other demonstrates his Hitchcock like ability to build and maintain suspense.