Monday, January 14, 2013

I miss Clint Eastwood

That wasn't a snarky remark: I really do miss Clint Eastwood: For the first time in 11 years, he doesn't seem to have a single project on the radar as producer, director, actor or composer. He'll be  83 in May, so a year without work for him could be more of a setback than for someone who's 30.

He had a rotten 2012. "J. Edgar," which premiered at the end of the previous year, drooped at the box office and wasn't nominated for anything at the last Oscars. During the summer, his strange one-man speech to the empty chair at the Republican National Convention left people in both parties shaking their heads. "Trouble With the Curve," in which he played an ailing baseball scout, premiered in September to critical disdain and audience indifference.

Whatever you think of his personal life or politics, you have to admire his skill as a filmmaker. He's the last significant throwback to the old studio days of the 1950s: He shoots efficiently, expressing a personal vision within the confines of short shooting schedules and relatively modest budgets.

He has wrestled with racism, war, the mythologizing of the West and other big themes. "Million Dollar Baby," "Mystic River" and especially "Unforgiven" are highlights from his last 20 years of storytelling. Though he's known as a limited but effective actor in the John Wayne mold, he has drawn fine performances from people as diverse as Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman.

Maybe he's physically tired of the labor needed to run a set from day to day. Maybe, after almost six decades as an actor and more than four as a director, he feels he's said what he has to say as an artist. (Yes, he's an artist.) If so, Hollywood will be just a little duller for his absence.