The one consistent element about Clint Eastwood’s directing endeavors has been his chronic inconsistency. As a filmmaker, Eastwood has been capable of creating works of great style and maturity – “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Unforgiven,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” are striking examples of his abilities as a creative artist.
However, Eastwood has also been capable of creating erratic misfires, intriguing efforts plagued by acute miscasting, and pure stinkers. But you wouldn’t know that in watching Richard Schickel’s love letter, “The Eastwood Factor: Extended Version.” By cherry picking the prime achievements of Eastwood’s career, recasting several notable flops as major works, and casually misidentifying several key films to give the impression that Eastwood was the director, Schickel’s work creates a blatantly ridiculous view of Eastwood’s output.
The film follows Eastwood around the Warner Bros. lot, where he visits some of his old costumes and toys about a recording studio named in his honor. He gives very little insight into the creation of his films (we never understand how he chooses which properties to film) and, despite a brief glimpse of him wandering around his neighborhood in Carmel, California, no insight into his personal life. Despite having worked with major talents, he barely talks about his famous casts – though he curiously insists that Chief Dan George was not a professional actor, which ignores the Canadian actor’s Oscar-nominated career in the years prior to “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
The film gives a great deal of attention to Eastwood’s prime work, and rightfully so – his best work represents the finest in modern American cinema. The film also notes several of Eastwood’s more memorable acting gigs, such as “Dirty Harry” and “Tightrope,” but the presentation is so jumbled that it gives the incorrect impression that Eastwood directed these films.
Eastwood casually acknowledges that he doesn’t aim for commercial properties, which may be a diplomatic way of explaining why some of his more ambitious films – “Bronco Billy,” “Honkytonk Man,” “Bird,” “White Hunter, Black Heart” “A Perfect World,” “Flags of Our Fathers” – were conspicuous box office flops.
Even more peculiar is the film’s insistence on sharing crummy clips while stating Eastwood was creating great work. With “A Perfect World,” Eastwood pulled a completely awful performance out of Kevin Costner and barely got anything credible out of child actor T. J. Lowther, yet the presentation here insists there is great acting in each frame. With “Mystic River,” Eastwood appeared to guide Sean Penn into imitating Frank Gorshin’s celebrated imitation of Kurt Douglas. Yes, Penn got the Oscar, albeit in one of the weakest Best Actor races in Oscar history. Eastwood has also miscast himself more than once – his lack of self-deprecation wrecked “Bronco Billy” and he never captured the complexity of John Huston for “White Hunter, Black Heart.”
Some of Eastwood’s more embarrassing directing efforts, including “Firefox,” “The Rookie” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” are conveniently forgotten. Sadly, the film did not clear the rights for the early and often intriguing Eastwood films directed outside of the Warner Bros. lot – “Play Misty for Me” is briefly mentioned, but “High Plains Drifter,” “Breezy” and “The Eiger Sanction” are not brought up at all. The absence of “High Plains Drifter” is especially shameful – while not a great film, it was superior to its quasi-remake, “Pale Rider,” which is cited here.
Eastwood’s rabid fans may enjoy this lopsided work, but anyone who’s been following his career as a director will look at this with a big gasp of “Huh?”