The Mule 2018 ***

Clint Eastwood’s illustrious career deserves several swan-songs; both Gran Torino and Trouble With The Curve purported to be goodbyes, but The Mule, which sees Eastwood produce, direct and star at the age of 88, gets the job done. It’s astonishing to think that the actor seen in 1955’s Revenge of the Creature is till going strong enough in 2019 to pull a project like this together, and make $100 million Stateside to boot. The Mule cannily plays off the Eastwood legend; there is violence here, but not instigated by Eastwood’s character Leo Sharp, a widower with a penchant for gardening and flowers, and need of a few bucks for his family. Nick Shrenk (Gran Torino) turns in a spry script that plays down the morality of a WWII vet running drugs, and plays up the ‘can-you-believe-this?’ angle, with Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena ideal as the incredulous lawmen on Sharp’s trail.  Throw in a couple of threesomes into the mix, plus having his camera ogle some of the female characters feel unnecessary, but at his age, it’s hard not to indulge Eastwood such grace notes; The Mule is quite a way to go.

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Firefox 1982 ****

firefoxLong before Space Cowboys or Sully, Clint Eastwood was flexing his muscles with this high-tech thriller with an aviation rather than web-browser bent. Mitchell Gant (Eastwood) is recruited to infiltrate Soviet Russia and return in the cockpit of the Firefox, a plane so high-tech it responds to the thoughts of the pilot. The first half of the film has a lot of Clint standing around in toilets looking pensive, but once Gant gets his hands on the plane, it’s all action fare; even if the projection work isn’t quite to modern standards, it’s amazing for 1982. Adapted from Craig Thomas’s novel, Firefox is still fun to watch, even just as a record of Eastwood learning his trade; a strong supporting cast including Nigel Hawthorne, Freddie Jones, Warren Clarke and Ronald Lacey are also along for the ride in this unusual star vehicle. Reboot, please!

Sully 2016 ****

220856-sully-movieThe story of the Miracle on the Hudson is the kind of material that could make a great tv movie; in the hands of Clint Eastwood, it makes for a great cinema experience. Following a similar structure to Flight, Sully opens with Tom Hank’s airline pilot having nightmares about the successful emergency landing he just carried out over NYC. In a fabricated bit of business that drives the story, the airline authorities somehow take a dim view of his heroic behavior, causing a series of flashbacks from various points of view that unravel exactly why Sully’s actions were so extraordinary. Eastwood avoids bloating the material and takes a sober, factual approach to the near-disaster, aided by a perfectly understated performance from hanks and good support from Aaron Eckhart, whose moustache is worth the price of admission. A model of economy, Sully is a meaty drama that contrives to use a dramatic lie to get at an astonishing truth.

 

Kelly’s Heroes 1970 ****

best-kelly-heroes-1970Clint Eastwood has made some solemn films about war, from Heartbridge Ridge to Letters From Iwo Jima, so it’s refreshing to see him in a rather more irreverent stab at the genre in Kelly’s Heroes. Written by The Italian Job’s Troy Kennedy Martin and re-uniting Eastwood with his Where Eagles Dare director Brian G Hutton, this slapdash, funny and deeply anachronistic war-comedy sees Kelly and his merry band of soldiers looting Nazi gold behind enemy lines during WWII. The musical choices are decidedly 1970, and Donald Sutherland’s pot-smoking tank commander Oddball steals the show, but there’s also some tense action, notably a scene in which two of Kelly’s men are pinned down in a minefield. War may be hell, but in Kelly’s Heroes, it’s a lot of fun too.

Magnum Force 1973 ****

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While all of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry sequels have their merits, Ted Post’s 1973 outing probably stands the test of time, expanding the universe from Don Siegel’s film and repositioning Harry as more than just a vigilante cop, but a tremendous force of moral responsibility. Instead of tracking down a serial killer, Magnum Force sees Harry Callahan on the trial of policemen who have taken the law into their own hands, dispensing justice his way. John Milius is the ideal man for writing duties, giving proceedings a macho swagger that’s ideally suited to the star. Extra bit of action, like Harry’s brusque treatment of an airport hi-jacking , keep the motor running, and the extended aircraft-carrier climax is satisfying. And Eastwood is very much the star turn, sporting great shades and making Harry is cooler, more ambivalent character without sacrificing any of the character’s drive for justice.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 1974 ***

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The considerable star-power of Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges powers Michael (The Deer Hunter) Cimino’s jauntily dark backwoods thriller, with the stars cast as two escaped convicts trying to locate the loot from a previous job. When they find that a police station has been built above their hiding place, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has a job on their hands. The gay subtext of the movie has been noted elsewhere, but Thunderbolt and Lightfoot also has a endearingly saltly sense of humour, and one highly sexed scene in which Bridges is seduced by a comely housewife.