Clint Eastwood directed all four of today’s pictures. This does help to illustrate that while the director is the most important person on the set, their quality can vary wildly. You know that you are a real movie nut when you are looking not at who is in the film but primarily who made the film. Being the first of October, I had to cut this short and did not get a chance to watch Breezy, which is also available on instant Netflix.
1. Absolute Power (1997) – “Cat burglar Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) finds himself in the president’s doghouse when he spies the chief executive (Gene Hackman) trysting with a trophy wife. When their rough romancing turns lethal, efforts to cover up the scandalous situation spiral violently out of control. Now, Luther must survive a desperate pursuit from the back streets of the nation’s capital to the halls of power. Eastwood also directed this riveting crime thriller”
I have not read David Baldacci’s novel on which this is based so I’m unable to judge whether it’s a faithful adaptation but William Goldman’s script seems quite good. Clint Eastwood assembled a first-rate cast for this thriller. In addition to Clint himself, the film also stars Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Laura Linney, E.G. Marshall, and Gene Hackman and they all put in predictably good performances. While there are some logic holes and the standard implausibilities, this is still a very good if unmemorable thriller.
People watchers: Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer on 24) plays a Secret Service agent and Penny Johnson (First Lady Palmer on 24) plays a police investigator. Clint’s daughter Alison appears as an art student.
2. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) – “When magazine writer John Kelso (John Cusack) travels to Savannah, Ga., to cover a chichi party thrown by urbane antiques dealer Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), he is pulled into his subject’s intriguing murder trial and introduced to a throng of colorful locals. Set against the beguiling backdrop of Southern high society, this retelling of John Berendt’s novel by director Clint Eastwood also stars Jude Law as Williams’s lover, Billy Hanson”
In the most brilliant casting move since The Long Riders, Clint Eastwood casts Lady Chablis as Lady Chablis, and Jim Williams’ sister and two nieces play themselves as well. Kevin Spacey delivers another near-perfect performance and dominates every scene he is in. A wonderful cast backs him up – John Cusack, Jack Thompson, and Jude Law all perform ably and are highly watchable and Irma P. Hall is very good and would stand out more if the riveting Kevin Spacey and the amusing Lady Chablis didn’t steal every scene. Clint’s direction is assured and ignoring the wonderful acting and even the story, this movie could serve as a wonderful tourism piece for the city of Savannah.
People watchers: Kim Hunter (Zira from Planet of the Apes) plays Betty Harty and Clint’s daughter Alison is in this as well.
3. True Crime (1999) – “The alcoholism and womanizing of journalist Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood) have nearly ruined his career and marriage. When he’s assigned to write a human-interest story about death-row inmate Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington), Everett finds that the evidence in Beechum’s murder conviction is shaky. With 12 hours till the execution, the reporter embarks on a quest to save the man he’s convinced is innocent. James Woods and Denis Leary costar”
The answer to yesterday’s query of ‘Is there a more tired genre than the buddy cop movie?’ – well how about the innocent man on death row movie? I’m torn about this genre – while I find it tired and cliched (redundancy for the win!), the rise of DNA evidence has led to many inmates being released from death row and there have been a number of admitted errors over the years. Statistically one is far more likely to get the death penalty if the victim(s) is white and the defendant is black or hispanic. Anyway enough of the soapbox – if you want a good informative Death Row movie see Dead Man Walking – if you want an entertaining one then see The Green Mile. Clint Eastwood directs himself in a very mediocre movie here – watching it you wish he would jettison the main plot of a newspaperman ludicrously piecing together Frank Louis Beechum (Isaiah Washington)’s innocence in a matter of hours before his execution and instead focus more on the details of Beechum’s incarceration and preparation for the death penalty. Clint plays a loose cannon former alcoholic, womanizing reporter that lost his last job at a big newspaper taking on a corrupt mayor (seriously how many cliches is that?). The stately Bernard Hill, the sarcastic Denis Leary, and the volatile James Woods are sadly not given much to do here – Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Penny Bae Bridges are fine as the inmate and his family but aren’t really fleshed out very well. Also even though it is Clint, it is still a little creepy seeing the then 69 year-old Eastwood hitting on a 23 year-old in a bar (and most of the other women in the film).
People watchers: Francesca Fisher-Eastwood, Clint’s real life daughter plays his daughter in the film. Her mother, Frances Fisher, plays the D.A. Clint’s wife Dina Eastwood plays Wilma Francis. Look for Anthony Zerbe, Lucy Liu, and Erik King (Sgt. Doakes on Dexter) in small parts as well.
4. Letters from Iwo Jima (2007) – “As tens of thousands of Allied troops push further inland, the Japanese troops defending Iwo Jima during World War II prepare to meet their fate in this Clint Eastwood-directed Oscar nominee, a companion piece to his hit film Flags of Our Fathers. Ken Watanabe stars as a Japanese general who knows his men are outnumbered and, with no hope of rescue, that most will eventually die in battle — or end up killing themselves”
Please note that this film is directed but does not star Clint Eastwood. It is also, except for a few very brief moments, in Japanese with English subtitles so bibliophobes need not apply. Clint Eastwood shot this at the same time as Flags of Our Fathers. This epic story told from the Japanese point of view flew by. The performances are uniformly excellent especially by the two leads Ken Watanabe (Last Samurai) and Kazunari Ninomiya. The script is wonderfully detailed and balanced, creating not so much an atmosphere of despair as one of resignation. The bled out color palette works quite well and a particular series of deaths is quite haunting. The film strikes a nice balance between personal story of war (Saigo/Ninomiya) and overview of the preparation, fractured command structure, and battle (General Kuribayashi/Watanabe). I highly recommend this film if you like war movies and don’t mind subtitles. My favorite quote from this movie is “Kashiwara died of honorable dysentery” (in response to a comment about how death is honorable).