It was once said: “no one directs Clint Eastwood, like Clint Eastwood.” Which is a sentiment I agree with completely. Furthermore, I think the list of actors who are as good, if not better as directors is a very short one, even when Eastwood is absent in front of the camera, he remains one of the most underrated directors of all time. From directing himself to stellar performances in films such as Gran Torino and Unforgiven, to stepping away from the acting spotlight in films like Letters From Iwo Jima and Mystic River, Eastwood is a man of many talents.
So, when I heard he was stepping back in front of camera to direct himself once again, I was understandably excited, not to mention the story seems like prime late-era Eastwood material, an older character doing something uncharacteristic of the elderly, with the unmistakable feel of his films, the dry, gritty feel that characterized Gran Torino seemed like it was also present here. So, does this latest offering compare with his impressive rap sheet?
Earl Stone is a 90 year-old horticulturist who is facing losing his business, as well as his family. Through a series of chance encounters he ends up wrapped up in the Mexican cartel’s drug operation as a ‘mule’ a driver delivering packages across the border, and pretty soon, the authorities are on his tail.
Right now, Clint Eastwood is 88 years years old, he has been in films since 1955, he is one of Hollywood’s most experienced heads, so the material here seemed like prime material for Eastwood to show he still has what it takes to compete in an ever-increasingly competitive market, which is why it breaks my heart to report that this film falls short of Eastwood’s mighty reputation.
As a director, he still remains nearly flawless at capturing an image of stunning beauty, and some of this films long shots rank among some of his best, capturing the dusty, dry American desert in Eastwood’s typical style and flair. It feels very similar to Eastwood’s 2009 offering Gran Torino, which long-term readers will know I am very fond of, which makes sense as its from the same scriptwriter, but it feels several steps removed from that films heart, depth and character.
Perhaps it is understandable that Eastwood is considerably slower as an actor, it’s true that he’s still incredibly watchable, his trademark squint doesn’t lose its endearing nature despite his advancing age, he just generally seems slower and more pained in front of camera, which really stands out among his co-stars, which include recent Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper and Laurence Fishburne, it’s very sad to see, as he does generally look like he’s doing his best with what he has, but age finally seems to be catching up and his performance suffers because of it.
To be honest, even his co-stars don’t dazzle as they usually do. The aforementioned duo of Cooper and Fishburne often seem to be phoning in their performances, as if this film was a contractual obligation rather than something they looked forward to, mind you, having said that, they didn’t strike lucky in the character department, playing a couple of cookie-cutter DEA agents, it all feels like it’s so far below both the cast and director that it comes across as false.
It is, as I mentioned, the direction where this film shines, and for what it’s worth Eastwood still seems incredibly capable of that at least, but the rest of the story hits the same predicable beats as you would think from its premise, and what was once a promising idea shrivels into becoming another run of the mill film about Mexican drug cartels, something we’ve seen a million times and done a million times better, I’m not sure if this is a late attempt to catch the tend of current cartel-related media, and if it is, it’s a cynical attempt.
Overall, this is a film that is simply not worthy of Eastwood’s name and reputation. A predictable, and often cliched, script, occasionally brought to life by some great direction and cinematography and the advent of seeing Clint on screen even loses its appeal after seeing him shuffle through the mediocre script, served up from a scriptwriter who you would hope could do better.
In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend this movie for those wanting another slice of prime Clint Eastwood, as it comes nowhere near his lofty standards, the praise I give the way it looks is overshadowed by my indifference to its characters, and my contempt for its script. Lovely direction and vision, ruined by a sub par script, and phoned-in performances.