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Clint Eastwood

This Clint Eastwood Double-Feature Shows Two Sides of the Same War


 Clint Eastwood’s films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima showcase his compassionate approach to storytelling and his willingness to critique the foundations of American patriotism.
 These films focus on the tragedy of warfare and the fabricated perception of heroism, while still honoring the individuals involved in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
 Flags of Our Fathers explores the repercussions of the iconic Iwo Jima photograph, challenging the romanticized notion of patriotism, while Letters from Iwo Jima depicts the meaningless and brutal nature of war from the Japanese perspective.

There’s a case for Clint Eastwood being the definitive American filmmaker in modern-day Hollywood. He’s one of the few working directors openly continuing the legacy of such Golden Age icons as John Ford and Howard Hawks, and his extensive filmography has seen him exploring every facet of the American national character. But crucially, Eastwood has never been a blind patriot, and his willingness to critique the foundations of his homeland has long been his greatest talent. It’s this philosophy at the core of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood’s 2006 companion films that presented the controversial Battle of Iwo Jima from the American and Japanese viewpoints, respectively.

It’s no surprise that an atypical American director would eventually turn their attention towards the most important event in its history, World War II, but these are not cliché war films that seek to glorify their nation via insipid sensationalism. Instead, Clint Eastwood focuses on the inherent tragedy of warfare, dissecting the fabricated perception of heroism while still making time to commemorate those involved. Eastwood has always been one of the industry’s most compassionate directors, and whether viewed as two separate films or as one unified epic, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima are excellent examples of that.
‘Flags of Our Fathers’ Explores the Repercussions of the Iconic Iwo Jima Photograph

Flags of Our Fathers castImage via Paramount Pictures

If there’s one image everyone can recognize from Iwo Jima, it’s the photograph of six United States Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi. It’s an immensely powerful shot, and personifies the mythical idea that America is the embodiment of independence, freedom, and optimism (no wonder it has become a cultural milestone). It’s also an image that is very misleading. The flag was raised on the fifth day of fighting, long before the Americans claimed victory thirty-one days later, and it wasn’t even the original. The first flag had been raised earlier that morning, but was taken down after the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, decided he wanted it as a souvenir. It’s ironic that the replacement flag – which was carried up Mount Suribachi and raised by six disgruntled soldiers who were largely indifferent to the whole endeavor – was the one that achieved immortal status, while the one that warmed the hearts of those blood-covered soldiers at the time has been forgotten by history. If ever did something encapsulate the dichotomy of how a nation treats its soldiers, it would be that.

These hidden truths play a central role in our first film, Flags of Our Fathers. At the film’s core are Marine Private First Class Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), Private First-Class Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), the three flag raisers who survived Iwo Jima (although subsequent investigations have now concluded that the latter two were misidentifications of Harold Keller and Harold Schultz, respectively). Before the bodies of their fallen comrades are even cold, these ordained heroes find themselves shipped home to be celebrated as the ultimate beacons of hope during these trying days… and then promptly weaponized by their government to aid the fledgling war bond drive that’s the only thing keeping the military afloat. It’s a remarkably cynical premise, dispelling with and then attacking the romanticized notion of patriotism that the American propaganda machines parrot to an ignorant (perhaps purposefully) audience. These men don’t fight for their country, but “for the man in front [and] for the man beside him.” That’s the truth, but the government isn’t about to let that become public knowledge.

Untethering these men from one frozen moment is at primary goal of Flags of Our Fathers. Eastwood’s characteristically muted direction is the ideal match for this subject matter, allowing voices that had previously been trapped behind the façade of “duty” and “responsibility” to speak unobstructed. Hayes is the most tragic figure, shunned by the same society he is expected to bleed and die for simply because he isn’t white. He resents his fame and detests the crusade of lies he is expected to spout, leading to a dependence on alcohol that contributes to his death ten years later. Beach captures his sadness flawlessly, demonstrating the heavy toll that fame can bring – especially for someone who finds it thrust upon them so unwantedly. Eastwood has always shown an interest in humanizing venerated icons – a topic he continues to explore with underrated films like Sully and The 15:17 to Paris – and the empathetic direction of Flags of Our Fathers makes it one of his more successful examples.

‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ Is About the Meaningless of War

Letters From Iwo Jima, Ken WatanabeImage via Warner Bros.

In this regard, Letters from Iwo Jima picks up right where its older sibling ended, albeit while ditching that film’s lavish production values for a decidedly more intimate experience that strands the viewer right alongside Iwo Jima’s doomed inhabitants. The reason for this is tragically simple – because so few of them survived. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers stationed on the island, only 216 would be taken prisoner, the rest either missing in action or dead (often by their own hands). It’s a horrendous statistic that speaks volumes about the brutality of war, and it’s also one that was painfully inevitable. The Japanese may have had the tactical advantage, but the overwhelming superiority of their opponent meant only the Americans would emerge victorious, leading to one of the most pointless battles of the war. This sense of impending defeat underpins everything in Letters from Iwo Jima, resulting in one of the most nihilistic depictions of warfare in cinematic history. The iconic flag from its predecessor makes only a brief appearance, but its shadow looms large over every gruesome minute.

Letters from Iwo Jima is an unrelenting ordeal. The characters we meet are not heroes – they’re scared little boys who spend their days writing letters they know their intended recipients will never read. All of them, generals and foot soldiers alike, know they will die – the only question is whether they will do so with honor (a nebulous term that, despite its positive connotations, is arguably the cause of all their problems). The film’s guiding light, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), may exude the confidence of a classic wild west sheriff, but he’s under no confusion about his job. He’s not there to save Iwo Jima, he’s there to lose it more slowly, and his commitment to doing that whilst trying in vain to keep casualties to a minimum makes him easy to root for. At the other end of the spectrum, we have Private First Class Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a fictitious character whose universality makes him an effective representation of the thousands of Japanese soldiers who died at the behest of their unseen masters. In general, Letters from Iwo Jima does a commendable job of remaining authentic, and Eastwood deserves high praise for having the courage to present everything in Japanese (making it one of the few American-produced films not in the English language).

Clint Eastwood has never been known as the most ostentatious director, but Letters from Iwo Jima displays some of his most overt stylistic choices. For starters, his version of Iwo Jima is truly apocalyptic, full of ravaged landscapes and sinister labyrinths where the ghosts of the fallen continue to reside even in the modern-day prologue. It makes for an ugly aesthetic that – when combined with the intense sound design and muted color palette (the consequence of cinematographer Tom Stern desaturating the image so much that it practically turns black and white) – makes for a difficult film to sit through, even for those who admire its core tenets. A casual moviegoer might seek enjoyment in the Saving Private Ryan-inspired battle sequences (no doubt the result of having Steven Spielberg in the producer chair), but the fatalistic context Eastwood presents them with rejects the longstanding belief that action translates too vibrantly to cinema to allow for an anti-war film. In Letters from Iwo Jima, violence is not fun – it is the symbol of a nation that has failed its citizens. Never has death seemed so inescapable, and what a damning reality that is.

Why Do ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ and ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ Make a Riveting Double-Feature?

Letters From Iwo Jimma

Despite taking place within touching distance of each other, there are no direct overlaps between Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, allowing them to be viewed as standalone pieces. However, it is only when they are seen together that their true power becomes known. A lot of terrible things happen in both films – many of which are committed by the characters we’re supposed to empathize with – but Eastwood never puts the blame on their shoulders. How could he? They’re just people, fighting in a war they barely understand against people they have no cause to hate… but orders are orders, and how is a low-level soldier expected to discern right from wrong when the future of their country is at risk? While Eastwood is willing to critique the nationalist tendencies of each nation, he never goes so far as to mock them, giving the film a baseline of compassion that should be a requirement for all like-minded war films. No one on that battlefield is a villain. They’re just ordinary people doing what they’ve been told is the right thing, and that’s far from the only similarity they have.

The summation of this comes towards the end of Letters from Iwo Jima. A Japanese regiment shoots and captures an American soldier, but guided by a moment of shared humanity, they decide to patch him up. Despite their best efforts, he dies, surrounded by the very people who were nothing more than targets on the other end of his rifle until moments earlier. A lieutenant searches him and finds a letter from his mother, whereupon he reads it aloud to the battle-scarred soldiers nearby. It’s a very mundane letter, containing nothing that the thousands of other letters across Iwo Jima wouldn’t also have included, but that’s the point. Hearing the hopeful words of a mother who just wants her baby to come home safe – a mother who is identical in spirit to everyone else’s on this damnable island – is soul-crushing, and speaks to Eastwood’s driving motivation behind these films. The point he’s making is one that centuries of anti-war stories have already asserted, but the fact that such stories are still being told is exactly why it needs repeating. It’s a powerful scene in isolation, but as the centerpiece in a duology that has spent 272 minutes exploring this exact conceit, it’s absolutely devasting.

Clint Eastwood

Mystic River: Why Clint Eastwood’s Best Movie Still Holds Up Today

A filmmaker of Clint Eastwood‘s caliber is going to have a filmography full of gems. Primarily known for his work in Westerns, biopics, and military dramas, every so often, Eastwood steps outside his comfort zone and delivers in a genre that would seem completely unexpected on paper. That happened in 2003 with Mystic River, a neo-noir murder mystery drama that seems a bit forgotten or overlooked, even though it was a financial success and earned six Academy Award nominations. It represents Eastwood at his very best, breathing vivid life into complex characters as he examines a plethora of themes that range from loyalty, friendship, revenge, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Mystic River is based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, and it follows the lives of three childhood friends, Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon), and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), living in Charlestown, Boston in 1975. Dave is kidnapped by two men claiming to be police officers, and he’s sexually abused by them over a four-day period until he escapes. The traumatic event shapes the three friends, and they ultimately lead very different lives twenty-five years later.

Jimmy is an ex-con that now owns a convenience store in the neighborhood, Sean works for the Massachusetts State Police as a detective, and Dave is your everyday blue-collar worker that still lives with the trauma of being abducted and raped. Their lives are forced together once again through tragedy when Jimmy’s daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is found murdered, and friendship is tested when all signs point to Dave being the murderer.
Mystic River Is a Departure From Clint Eastwood’s Other Work

Sean Penn held back by cops in Mystic RiverWarner Bros.

Eastwood tackles the material in Mystic River with a sure and confident hand. It also represents a unique departure from some of his other films. Much of the action takes place under the cover of darkness, and Eastwood is able to find beauty in that darkness. The filmmaker focuses on a character’s eyes or the gleam of a weapon, for instance, as darkness permeates most of the scene.

For the scenes that take place during the day, the filmmaker opts for tight close-ups that linger over the emotions of his impressive cast. There is something uncomfortably intimate about Mystic River, and that has much to do with the subject matter. None of this story is particularly easy to digest, and Eastwood adds to that discomfort with his choices to frame scenes in such a way that’s almost intrusive. The audience feels a growing sense of dread and tension as more of the story unfolds.
Using Lehane’s novel and Brian Helgeland’s screenplay as a blueprint, Eastwood profoundly explores generational trauma and how the sins of the past can leave a permanent mark on our present. Even though the abuse only happened to Dave, the effects of the event leave a mark on all three friends, with Dave being the primary victim and the others feeling a sense of survivor’s guilt for not being subjected to it themselves.
The ordeal forever changes their union because they’re never quite able to look at each other the same way again, as each friend deals with the trauma differently. Jimmy is stunned by the act of abuse but can’t give Dave the support he needs, which then bleeds into their present when Jimmy begins to suspect that Dave had something to do with his daughter’s murder. He doesn’t want to consider that his friend would do something like this because of the trauma he endured as a child, but as evidence mounts against him, Jimmy has to decide if friendship and loyalty overshadow his need for vigilante justice. The story is rich with so many complexities that make it some of Eastwood’s most compelling work as a filmmaker.

Eastwood also takes his time with the story and lets it unfold as it should. Mystic River is very nuanced, and he knows he’s dealing with heartbreaking subject matter that requires patience and respect. The story is grounded in so much reality that Eastwood seems keenly aware that a viewer might be an actual victim of this kind of abuse themselves, so he delicately approaches the topic and gives it the emotional weight it deserves.
He also shows the uncomfortable side of abuse where the victim, unfortunately, can be shamed because of the event. Dave becomes an outsider later in his life, even with his close friends, something that sadly comes along with this kind of trauma. Eastwood approaches all of this responsibly and provides a very balanced outlook to all the events transpiring on screen.
Mystic River has become known for its powerhouse performances, and Eastwood pulls the very best from his ensemble cast. While the scenes with the young actors are brief in the beginning, they set the tone of who these people will be twenty-five years later. Dave becomes the outcast because of the event; Jimmy lacks empathy and doesn’t trust authority, while Sean becomes the grounded one of the bunch and a police officer in an attempt to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

Clint Eastwood Pulls Powerhouse Performances From His Cast

Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and Kevin Bacon do a great job conveying the unspoken tension between all three of these characters. There is a sense of loyalty, but so much has taken place over the years that it has forced them all to lead very different lives. As a group, they are uniformly excellent. You feel the history between the characters and the bonds that were broken, only to be reopened by a new traumatic event.
On their own, Penn gives the performance of a lifetime as Jimmy, and it’s not a shock that this turn finally earned him his first Academy Award for Best Actor. Penn is a dominant presence in all of his scenes, and there is a sense of uncertainty whenever he’s around because you don’t know exactly what move he will make.

That’s not to say he doesn’t display layers. All of that bravado is broken once he finds out his daughter is murdered. It’s hard to pinpoint a director’s best scene on film, but what Eastwood pulls out of Penn during the “Is that my daughter?” sequence represents some of his very best work as a filmmaker.
Robbins also received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work here, representing a much-deserved win. As Dave, Robbins is the tragic and emotional heart of the story. The viewer feels instant empathy for Dave due to what he went through as a child, but you’re also left questioning everything when it seems like Dave could be the one who murdered Katie.
Robbins keeps you on your toes throughout, making you question his innocence while also seeing the tenderness in him as he interacts with his own child, who is just about the age he was when he was abused. As for Bacon, of the three male leads, he gives the most subdued performance, but it suits the character. He’s trying to make everything right and keep it all together. It’s a subtle performance that carries its own emotional weight.

Eastwood also makes the supporting roles worthy of attention. Marcia Gay Harding, as Dave’s wife Celeste, puts in powerful work here that earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, while Laura Linney more than holds her own with Penn as his second wife, Annabeth. In addition, Laurence Fishburne also fills in as Sgt. Whitey Powers in another excellent part.
Mystic River is a haunting and poetic motion picture that showcases a director laying it all out on the table. Eastwood gives the audience everything he has as a director and pours it out across the screen in a film that is just as powerful twenty years after its initial release.

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Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood’s Most Iconic Non-Western Role Was Only Possible Because Of This Actor


 Clint Eastwood’s role in Dirty Harry is considered one of his most iconic, and the film is a classic in the crime genre.
 Paul Newman initially turned down the role of Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry but recommended Clint Eastwood for the part.
 Newman declined the role due to his liberal beliefs, and Eastwood’s portrayal of Callahan differed from Newman’s perspective, but both respected each other.


Although Clint Eastwood first built his impressive career on Western movies like The Man with No Name franchise and The Outlaw Josey Wales, the actor’s biggest non-Western role in Dirty Harry is one of his most iconic, and it might have never happened without this one actor. Clint Eastwood began acting in the 1950s, and over several decades, became a staple in the Western genre. What makes Eastwood stand out is the fact that he has not only appeared in countless films, but has also directed them himself. Films like Unforgiven and Gran Torino have defined his career. However, Dirty Harry is by far one of Clint Eastwood’s best films.

In 1971, Clint Eastwood starred in the neo-noir action film Dirty Harry. The film, and its adjoining sequels, follow Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan, a rugged detective that is on a hunt for a psychopathic serial killer named Scorpio. The Dirty Harry franchise lasted from 1971 to 1988, and has since been considered a classic. In fact, Dirty Harry was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because of its cultural significance. However, this film might have been vastly different if Clint Eastwood had never been in it, and scarily enough, this definitely could have happened back in 1971.
Paul Newman Rejected Dirty Harry Before Suggesting Clint Eastwood For The Role

Dirty Harry 2

Dirty Harry went through many production challenges before it was actually made, and one of those included casting the iconic detective. In the film’s early stages, the role was offered to actors such as John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Steve McQueen, and Burt Lancaster. However, for various reasons, including the violence that permeates the film, these actors all declined. For a time, Frank Sinatra was attached to the project, but he also eventually left the production. In reality, Clint Eastwood wasn’t even in the cards for portraying Dirty Harry, but his big break came when Paul Newman was offered and declined the role.

Paul Newman, like many amazing actors before him, was offered the role of Harry Callahan, but ultimately said no. However, what makes his refusal stand out among the rest is that he recommended another actor that could be perfect for the role: Clint Eastwood. At this time, Eastwood was in post-production for his first film Play Misty for Me, meaning his career was taking something of a turn. Also, unlike his predecessors, Eastwood joined up with Dirty Harry, just as Newman thought he would. Because of his Western roots, the violence and aggression that made up Dirty Harry didn’t bother Eastwood at all.

Why Paul Newman Turned Down Dirty Harry

Paul Newman holding a gun.

Paul Newman turning down the leading role in Dirty Harry may not seem too surprising considering the host of other actors that also declined the movie, but Newman definitely had his reasons. While previous actors had condemned the movie for its incredible violence and themes of “the ends justify the means,” Newman refused to take the role because of his political beliefs. Since Harry Callahan was a renegade cop, intent on catching a serial killer no matter the cost or the rules that would be broken, Newman saw this character as too right-wing for his own liberal beliefs.

Paul Newman was an outspoken liberal during his life. He was open about his beliefs, so much so that he even made it onto Richard Nixon’s enemies list due to his opposition of the Vietnam War. Other issues that Newman spoke out for included gay rights and same-sex marriage, the decrease in production and use of nuclear weapons, and global warming. As a result of his politics, Newman quickly denied the role of Harry Callahan. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly as reported by Far Out Magazine, Clint Eastwood commented that he didn’t view Callahan in the way Newman did, but still respected him as an actor and a man.

Would Dirty Harry Have Been So Successful Without Clint Eastwood?

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan

Ultimately, it’s hard to say whether Dirty Harry would have been successful without Clint Eastwood. Arguably, any big-time actor could have made the film succeed solely based on their fame. However, one aspect of Dirty Harry and its carousel of actors is that the movie had various scripts, all with different plots. So, if Dirty Harry had been in a different location with a different serial killer and a different lead actor, there’s a chance it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. In the end, Dirty Harry is a signature for Clint Eastwood, and most likely, audiences are lucky that it was made the way it was.

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The story of how Clint Eastwood prevented Ron Howard from embarrassment

A star of American cinema both in front of and behind the camera, Ron Howard is often forgotten when recalling the greatest directors of modern cinema, yet his contributions to the art form remain unmatched. Working with the likes of Tom Hanks, Chris Hemsworth, Russell Crowe and John Wayne, Howard has brought such classics as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Rush to the big screen.
Entering the industry in the late 1950s and 1960s, Howard started his career as an actor, making a name for himself in shows like Just Dennis and The Andy Griffith Show before his role in 1970s Happy Days would catapult him to national acclaim. His directorial debut would come at a similar time, helming 1977’s Grand Theft Auto, the ropey first movie in a filmography that would later become known for its abundance of quality.
Known for his acting talents, Howard wouldn’t become a fully-fledged director in the eyes of the general public until the 1980s, when he worked with Tom Hanks on 1984’s Splash and George Lucas for the 1988 cult favourite Willow.
With hopes of becoming the new Star Wars, Willow was instead a peculiar fantasy tale that told the story of a young farmer who is chosen to undertake the challenge to protect a magical baby from an evil queen. Starring the likes of Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, the film failed to make a considerable dent in pop culture at the time, largely being ridiculed by critics and audiences alike.
Screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie was spared humiliation by none other than Clint Eastwood, who saw the craftsmanship behind the picture, as described by Ron’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard.
Speaking to Daily Mail, the actor recalled: “My dad made a film called Willow when he was a young filmmaker, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival and people were booing afterwards. It was obviously so painful for him, and Clint, who he didn’t know at that time, stood up and gave him a standing ovation and then everyone else stood up because Clint did”.
Dallas Howard, who worked with Eastwood on the 2010 movie Hereafter, became very fond of Eastwood as a result, looking up to him as an exemplary Hollywood talent. “Clint puts himself out there for people,” she added, “As a director he is very cool, very relaxed, there’s no yelling ‘action’ or ‘cut’. He just says: ‘You know when you’re ready.’ I told my dad he should do that!”.
Take a look at the trailer for Howard’s 1988 fantasy flick below.

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