Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992) marked a pivotal moment in Clint Eastwood’s career both as an actor and a director. The film was widely praised, and Eastwood was compared to Sam Peckinpah and John Ford. Many critics regarded it as the zenith of his work. “Unforgiven is the harsh, brilliant culmination, indeed consummation, of themes, motifs, characterizations, and critical attitudes that have evolved in Clint Eastwood’s Westerns for more than thirty years” (1). Subsequently, Eastwood has appeared in six films-In the Line of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen, 1993), A Perfect World (Clint Eastwood, 1993), The Bridges of Madison County (Clint Eastwood, 1995), Absolute Power (Clint Eastwood, 1997), True Crime (Clint Eastwood, 1999) and Space Cowboys (Clint Eastwood, 2000)-as well as directing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Clint Eastwood, 1997). However, these have received far less critical attention. Were the majority of critics who admired Unforgiven correct in arguing that its engagement with what might be called a progressive thematic agenda represented a significant shift in Eastwood’s work? Have his recent films continued to explore and problematise masculinity, violence and Eastwood’s screen persona? Or has Eastwood returned to what his detractors might term “traditional Eastwood values”? That is, are these films inscribed with belligerent, sarcastic, preternatural heroes and cathartic violence? Or are they, like Unforgiven, characterised by ambivalence and melancholy?

This article explores such issues in relation to the problems of ageing associated with Eastwood’s screen persona in his recent cinema (2). Amy Taubin argues that Unforgiven is “the first film of Eastwood’s old age” (3). Eastwood the actor certainly looks old in Unforgiven: his hair is grey and thinning, his face deeply lined. However, rather than limiting his screen roles, Eastwood’s increasing age (he turned seventy in 2000) has arguably broadened his options. As he said in 1993, “The older you are, the more background the characters can have” (4). This, of course, applies to William Munny, his character in Unforgiven, an all too human figure tormented by the reality of his near-mythic past crimes. Eastwood’s later characters also grapple with their personal histories. Often beset by regret and remorse they seek, but do not always find, redemption in various forms. While this applies to A Perfect World and The Bridges of Madison County, where Eastwood plays noticeably different roles than usual, it is also discernible in In the Line of Fire, Absolute Power, True Crime and Space Cowboys, even though his character in each is a variant of the Eastwood action hero.

In In the Line of Fire Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, a secret service agent who had been unable to save John F. Kennedy. Thirty years later Horrigan is confronted by Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), a former government hitman determined to assassinate the current President. The film draws parallels between the two men. During a telephone conversation Leary openly compares himself with Frank, claiming that they are both honest, capable men who have been betrayed by their country. At another point Malkovich, whose character specialises in disguises, is made up to resemble Eastwood. However, Taubin asserts that it is the contrast between the performances of Eastwood and Malkovich which is more important. In her opinion, Eastwood is an actor with a limited range as an actor. He is rigid and controlled in most of his films. His body can be read as “a metaphor for the psychological and moral struggle to be an upright man. . . .It’s a body that’s terrified to give way” (5). By contrast, Malkovich’s frequent transformations are indicative of his flexibility. For Taubin, “there is something feminine in his narcissistic involvement with his image” (6). As such, Leary, and especially Malkovich’s performance, represent the displacement of the fear of emasculation or feminisation of the masculine figure Eastwood embodies.

Eastwood’s character is a conservative stalwart in some respects. In a discussion about tokenism with a female secret service agent, Lilly Raines (Rene Russo), Horrigan identifies himself proudly as a “white, heterosexual, piano-playing male over the age of fifty”. Horrigan is aligned with American icons on two occasions. As Horrigan tries to woo Raines in a scene on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, there are several trademark shots of Eastwood from the front at 45° (7). After Raines departs, there is a reverse shot of Horrigan with the imposing presence of Lincoln’s statue behind him. (Of course, this shot is also ironic.) In a later scene Horrigan plays “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) and does a brief Bogart impersonation.

Furthermore, the film explicitly connects the failure of Horrigan’s body with Kennedy’s death, and the national trauma associated with the latter. Leary belittles Horrigan by reminding him that he could have shielded Kennedy from the second and fatal bullet if only he had leapt upon the President. This failure is replayed when Horrigan has a chance to shoot Leary during a rooftop chase even though it will cause his own death. Horrigan’s inability to act allows Leary to escape after he kills Frank’s partner (Dylan McDermott). It is only when Horrigan throws himself literally into the line of fire late in the film that he is able to prevent another assassination. Leary’s subsequent death is followed by under-the-chin shots of Eastwood which emphasise his character’s triumph.

It seems, therefore, that Horrigan is consistent with the characters Eastwood played in the 1970s and ’80s that Eastwood regresses to “type” in the film. However, the film is more complex than this analysis suggests. Despite the examples cited above, the manner in which Eastwood is framed often varies from Paul Smith’s typology. For much of the film he is shot from his eyeline or slightly higher. Unlike many Eastwood action heroes, Horrigan’s personal history is well-defined in the film. While he fumes at Leary’s taunts, he acknowledges his part in Kennedy’s death. We learn that afterwards his marriage failed and that he drank heavily. He is looking to atone for his mistakes.

The supposed Eastwood “hardbody” is also overtly defective. While running beside the presidential motorcade Horrigan sweats profusely as he struggles to keep pace. Later he catches a virus that leads him to make an error of judgement that embarrasses the President. While chasing Leary he is unable to leap across an alley and only survives because Leary rescues him. Horrigan’s failure to kill Leary and prevent his partner’s death occurs as a direct result. (Indeed, he does not kill anyone, a rare event in an Eastwood action film.) This indecisiveness recalls his response to Kennedy being shot and indicates that Horrigan has a congenital flaw. While discussing Dallas, he confesses to Raines, “I don’t know why I didn’t react”. Horrigan lacks the exceptional skills Eastwood’s characters possess in films such as High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood, 1973) and Pale Rider (Clint Eastwood, 1985). Rather, his ageing body requires fortification. During a love scene with Raines the pair remain off-screen as they drop their weapons, body armour, radios and other gear into frame. Horrigan only survives being shot by Leary because he is wearing his bulletproof vest. And it is via his electronic communications link that he is able to direct sharpshooters to target Leary and save his own life.

Horrigan’s growing relationship with Raines also enables him to admit his grief and remorse over Kennedy’s death. During the scene where he recounts the events of 1963, Raines holds his hand. Eastwood is framed in 90° profile shots during the conversation and has tears in his eyes. This episode seems to function as a form of mourning: Horrigan’s confession prepares the way for him to shield the current President from Leary’s bullet. Subsequently he resigns to become Raines’ househusband. Taubin claims that for Eastwood “as role reversals go, it’s not even skin deep” (8). In the Line of Fire suggests, though, that Eastwood is prepared to contemplate the retirement or even sacrifice of his screen persona.

However, after the interludes of A Perfect World and The Bridges of Madison County, the Eastwood action persona seems to resume work in Absolute Power and True. In Absolute Power Eastwood plays Luther Whitney, an ageing master thief who, during a robbery, witnesses a drunken brawl between the US President (Gene Hackman) and his mistress (Melora Hardin), who is the wife of the President’s oldest friend, Walter Sullivan (E.G. Marshall). She is killed by the Secret Service who attempt a cover-up at the behest of Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis). Whitney escapes but becomes a suspect in the subsequent murder investigation, thereby also endangering the life of his estranged daughter, Kate (Laura Linney).

Luther represents a departure from the conventional Eastwood persona in some ways. He is unrepentant about his profession. Kate, a prosecutor, rejects him because he was imprisoned during her childhood and apparently absent from her life afterwards. Luther often lacks the visual presence of the Eastwood hero. Contra Taubin, he assumes a number of disguises. He often lurks in the shadows: he eats by candlelight, during the burglary he disappears in the frame because it is so dark, and several of his conversations occur in lowly lit interiors. Moreover, he is quite unheroic when disturbed during the robbery. In a lengthy scene he is confined to a vault while the President bashes his mistress and then tries to rape her. Eastwood characters often intervene to prevent rapes, but on this occasion Luther he does nothing. Several rection shots of Luther watching the violence occur and the cover-up begin emphasise his passivity as he waits for an opportunity to leave.

However, these differences are only marginal: the Eastwood persona soon appears as Luther evades capture by the local police, the rogue Secret Service agents and Sullivan’s hired assassin. Although he explains in detail to Seth Frank (Ed Harris), the lead homicide detective on the case, the kind of research and skills necessary to accomplish the burglary he committed, Luther’s talents are rarely displayed. We do not see how he breaks into the apartments of Kate or Seth, how he returns what he stole initially, or how he replaces Sullivan’s driver without being detected. All of this is neatly elided from the film: Luther’s abilities appear to be innate, like those of the Man with No Name or the Stranger. He also halts one of the Secret Service agents just as the latter is about to kill Kate. Although the agent begs for mercy, Luther executes him without remorse, and a typical Eastwood sarcasm (“I’m fresh out”). He then proceeds to end the conspiracy in a rather neat and unconvincing fashion. (As a political thriller Absolute Power is ludicrous.) Unsurprisingly, his relationship with his daughter is also healed after it transpires that he has been watching over her from afar for many years. His final words to her as she lies in hospital are, “We’re gonna be just fine”.

True Crime (Clint Eastwood, 1999) follows a similar trajectory. Eastwood plays Steve Everett, a former Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times investigative journalist in decline. After the death of a colleague, he is assigned to write a brief human interest story on Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington), a death row inmate facing execution for a crime he claims he did not commit. Everett becomes rapidly convinced of Beechum’s innocence but appears to lack sufficient time and resources to prove it.

True Crime is predictable enough. There never seems to be any real doubt that Everett will succeed against the odds and find professional redemption as a result (he receives another Pulitzer for his work). Moreover, as with Absolute Power, True Crime substitutes Eastwood heroic virtues for narrative details. This is particularly evident when Everett secures the vital breakthrough in the case. Although Beechum’s death is imminent, Everett drives frantically to the governor’s mansion when a telephone call would be far quicker. The necessary delays in explaining the new evidence, the mechanics of ordering a reprieve and so on are then all simply omitted. Accordingly, Everett’s victory despite considerable adversity is that of a typical Eastwood hero. Intuition or luck, rather than any journalistic skill or dedication, are the decisive factors.

Where True Crime differs from Absolute Power is in the ambiguity surrounding Eastwood’s character. Like Luther Whitney, Steve Everett is a rogue, but far less charming. Everett is a drunk, a womaniser and a bad father. While he expresses remorse, he continues to commit adultery with his boss’s wife. Furthermore, his professional credibility has been compromised because he championed the cause of a convicted rapist who was actually guilty. The film also draws some interesting parallels and contrasts between Everett and Beechum. Both are married with a young daughter, but whereas there are touching scenes involving Beechum’s last hours with his family, Everett spoils an outing with his child because he is preoccupied with his investigation. Everett is linked to Beechum by a number of graphic editing matches, especially while smoking. When he visits Beechum there are several shots of Eastwood either in shadow or creased by light. There is an implication that Everett is imprisoned in some way, and his attempts to free Beechum can be read as a quest for his own release. The perfunctory elision of the details of Beechum’s stay of execution have an intriguing function in this regard. In the last shot we see of the gas chamber the execution has already begun and the lethal gases have been released. We never see precisely how he is saved. Instead, the film cuts to some months ahead as Everett encounters Beechum at a local shopping mall. There are no celebrations, no Eastwood witticisms or slow tracking shots of him disappearing in triumphant fashion. Although Everett enjoys professional success as a result of the case, there are no trite resolutions of his family or personal problems as with Absolute Power. Rather, the viewer is left to wonder if Everett redeemed himself after all.

* * *

A Perfect World is notionally a chase film. Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) and Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka) escape from a Texas jail in late 1963. While stealing a car they kidnap a small boy, Philip Perry (T.J. Lowther). Eastwood’s character is Red Garnett, a gruff Texas ranger in charge of the manhunt. However, after Haynes shoots Pugh off-screen in a cornfield, the film transforms into a road movie where character development supersedes action. Haynes’s efforts to elude capture are fitful, while Garnett does not seem eager to catch him. Rather, the film concentrates on the growing rapport between Haynes and the boy, whom he nicknames Buzz, as they drive around northern Texas. This roaming is underscored by the unfinished roads to which Haynes is drawn and Garnett knows well.

Fatherhood is the prevailing issue in the film. Butch links himself to Buzz: “Both of us is handsome devils, we both like RC cola, and neither one of us got an old man worth a damn”. A charming figure, Butch quickly assumes a paternal role. He protects Buzz from Pugh, reassures the boy about his penis size, and generally extols family values (9). Perhaps because of Butch’s own deprived childhood (his mother was a prostitute and his father a career criminal), he tries to compensate for Buzz’s strict religious upbringing by turning the journey into an adventure: at one point he straps the boy to the roof of a car to simulate a carnival ride.

Garnett seems to be an Eastwood throwback: a tobacco-chewing, sexist redneck who gives Sally Gerber (Laura Dern), a criminologist assigned to the case a demeaning welcome. However, Garnett is not a typical Eastwood action hero. Unusually, Eastwood’s part is a supporting role. Nor does Garnett, as we might expect, assume the malevolent presence of that better known Texan searcher, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne). For an Eastwood lawman Red is unusually concerned with avoiding violence. His pursuit is almost leisurely. Garnett even expresses the desire that Haynes escapes his jurisdiction. His reluctance is emphasised in this shot by the way Eastwood is framed in right profile and mostly in shadow, as if he would prefer to remain there.

Garnett’s link to Haynes is the key to his behaviour. As he starts to respect Gerber, she questions him about why he intervened in a minor juvenile criminal case involving Haynes. In an exchange around a campfire reminiscent of scenes in Unforgiven, Garnett answers that he had asked the presiding judge to sentence Haynes to four years on a prison farm, ostensibly justifying his actions on the basis that he was attempting to separate the boy from his violent father. Garnett’s discomfort with his decision lingers. Having acted in loco parentis for Haynes (during the finale Red calls Butch “son”), he now feels partly responsible for him.

While A Perfect World stresses the importance of responsible fatherhood, the dubious legacy of its paternal figures gives it an ambivalent residue. Garnett’s “paternal” guilt recalls that of Luther Whitney, but A Perfect World differs from Absolute Power in the “father’s” failure to protect his “child”. Garnett’s influence effectively ensured that Haynes became a criminal. Although he tries to negotiate Haynes’ surrender, the latter is killed by an FBI sniper. Haynes, in turn, has a profound effect on Philip. The boy becomes attached to Butch. However, despite the exhortations about parenthood, there are suggestions that the cycle of crime and violence will continue with Philip. He steals a Casper the Friendly Ghost costume (which he wears thereafter, providing a subtle reminder of the presence of death). Although he could escape on several occasions each time he decides to rejoin Haynes. After a farmer hits his grandson, Haynes becomes so furious that he threatens to execute the man and his family. Philip intervenes by shooting Haynes, but in so doing imitates him in a crucial way: both shoot violent men when they are eight years old.

Moreover, A Perfect World occurs in the context of the looming assassination of President Kennedy. On this connection, Eastwood said that the film was set “on the brink of a great turning towards the void that will take hold of America” (10). If Kennedy’s death represented a loss of national innocence in In the Line of Fire, here it arguably functions as a indicator of the consequences of violence and lost innocence on a personal level. In this respect, the countless shots of green pastures in A Perfect World are auspicious. Perhaps these shots allude to the quest for freedom or youthful yearnings, but it is interesting that shots of Butch dying in such a field bracket the film. This repetition implies that his death was unavoidable. After Butch is shot Sally tries to comfort Red by gently insisting that he must know he had done everything possible to avert the tragedy. Red’s reply is telling, “I don’t know nothin’. Not one damn thing”. As with Eastwood’s character at the end of White Hunter, Black Heart (Clint Eastwood, 1990), the John Huston-like John Wilson, Garnett is inconsolable that his pride has caused, even if indirectly, someone else’s death.

The Bridges of Madison County is an unlikely Eastwood film. In it he plays Robert Kincaid, a photographer who visits Iowa in 1965. In the process he has a brief encounter with a farmer’s wife, Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), but the affair ends when her family returns from an interstate trip. Many years later it is discovered by Francesca’s adult children while searching through her things after her death.

Bridges is a gentle film. There is no violence or action. Naturalistic lighting, costumes and settings are used throughout, the rural Iowa locations underscoring the idyllic feel of this period romance. (Indeed, several reviewers noted that the pictorial composition of certain scenes resembled the work of Edward Hopper.) Recounted in flashback via Francesca’s journal, the relationship between Robert and Francesca develops in a cautious and measured fashion. Eastwood the director uses small gestures such as lighting a cigarette or tuning a radio to indicate the characters’ initial awkwardness. A leisurely dinner sequence at Francesca’s house on the first night allows them to discuss their lives in some detail. They manner in which they are separated spatially for sustained periods suggests that they are testing each other out. This contrasts noticeably with the following night when they again have dinner at the Johnson farm. Robert and Francesca are in closer proximity, and the use of tighter framing alludes to their growing intimacy. By the time they make love we have the impression that these people actually know each other.

While Kathleen Murphy has traced the romantic and sexual dimensions of Eastwood’s previous roles, Kincaid is the first purely romantic lead of Eastwood’s career (11). This has interesting repercussions. In terms of character, although Robert takes the lead in seducing Francesca, his longing is reciprocated throughout. While there are shots of Francesca baring her flesh to the wind at night, there are also shots of Eastwood bathing as Francesca watches him covertly. This construction of Eastwood as an erotic figure for Francesca (and the audience) suggests that they are both actively desiring and desirable characters. At one point Robert cradles Francesca in the bath, at another she spoons him as they sleep. Moreover, the angles at which Eastwood and Streep are usually framed (about eye level) are similar. Their relationship is one of equals: Robert is not the dominant figure of other Eastwood films. (If anything, Bridges is Francesca’s film, since it is narrated from her perspective.)

Robert is also a conspicuously unsuccessful Eastwood character, if accomplishing goals is the criterion of success. While Francesca is the love of his life, he fails to persuade her to leave her family. When he insists that, “This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime”, he does so from the shadows, reinforcing the impression that his desire has been eclipsed. While the romance enables him subsequently to discover the flair previously lacking in his photography, he never sees Francesca again. All that is left of his presence are a few objects Francesca’s children find with her journals. Indeed, Francesca’s glory box becomes the crypt for the lovers’ passion. While they are nominally reunited in death (both have their ashes dispersed from one of the covered bridges), this does not compensate for almost thirty years apart.

Arguably, what is most remarkable about Eastwood and Bridges is his performance. While he often yields to Streep, this much-maligned actor is an entirely credible romantic figure. Eastwood’s renowned physical fitness and strong facial features have enabled him to appear physically attractive on screen when required. Here he is also warm and funny. Whereas Eastwood often delivers dialogue in an epigrammatic manner or as if he is giving a speech that precludes reply, in Bridges he is an enthusiastic and convincing interlocutor. Eastwood is also vulnerable in the film. The climactic scene in which Robert waits forlornly for Francesca in the rain is among the most powerful in any Eastwood film. He does not say anything, rather he just stands there. In previous films this stance would have had a statuesque, iconic aspect. Here Eastwood is drenched, his thinning hair plastered to his head like a bad combover. He is a lonely, bedraggled, old man. And yet in this moment of crisis Eastwood the director concentrates upon Streep: Francesca’s inner turmoil over her choice is matched by her struggle with a truck door handle as she is tempted a final time to depart with Robert.

* * *

Space Cowboys seems to occupy an interesting place in the context of ageing in Eastwood films. It would be easy to dismiss the film as a light action comedy that celebrates the capacities of its heroes and denies the realities of time. After all, it is an insouciant tale of four senior citizens – Frank Corvine (Clint Eastwood), Hawk Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and Tank Sullivan (James Garner) – finally getting a chance to visit outer space. It appears to borrow liberally from The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983) and the real-life story of astronaut and former Senator John Glenn’s return to space in his seventies. Despite Glenn’s successful recent mission, it is highly unlikely that N.A.S.A. would allow the men of Team Daedalus, as Eastwood’s unit is called, back into space given their poor physical condition. Furthermore, Glenn’s trip required little of him: N.A.S.A. would never entrust the recovery of a failing Russian satellite, let alone saving the planet from nuclear war, to pensioners.

There is little doubt, though, that Eastwood and his team will pass the rigorous physical tests in order to fly again, or that their mission will be successful. The members of Team Daedalus also possess old-fashioned virtues that might be regarded as almost anachronistic. Although as individuals they strain against authority on the ground, in space they unite smoothly into a team. These men are more experienced than the younger astronauts who accompany them, but also more capable, courageous and innovative. When the inevitable crisis emerges it is always clear which generation will be more effective, however unlikely this might actually be. The ending is a particularly apt example of the triumph of legend over fact. The crisis is averted when Hawkins, who has terminal cancer, volunteers to guide the nuclear warheads, a la Slim Pickens in Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964), further into space. The film concludes with a shot of Hawkins’ body resting on the moon’s surface (despite the lack of gravity) with the earth’s reflection in his face mask as Frank Sinatra sings Fly Me to the Moon on the soundtrack!

However, for all its unlikely aspects, Space Cowboys is concerned with redressing past failures. Corvine’s desire to visit outer space stems from the decision in 1958 to replace Team Daedalus, then a group of test pilots and prospective astronauts, with monkeys for the first space flights. This matter still irritates Corvine forty years later. This impression is implied by the black-and-white sequence set in 1958 that opens the film. While much younger actors play the youthful versions of the Team Daedalus members, the characters’ voices are those of Eastwood, Jones, Sutherland and Garner, thus linking past and present. When N.A.S.A. officials visit Corvine to request his help, he is fooling around with his wife (Barbara Babcock) in his garage. The pair are shot in almost total darkness. When the officials raise the garage door there is a sudden burst of light which suggests that Corvine is being pulled from the shadows of obscurity. During Corvine’s subsequent discussions with his former boss (James Cromwell), who is now in charge of N.A.S.A., Eastwood is often shot in a mixture of light and shadow, as if he is still some way from achieving atonement.

It is significant, therefore, that the redemption of Eastwood’s character lies not in neutralising the threat of the nuclear missiles, but in returning the astronauts safely to Earth. In this respect, while Corvine is the film’s central character, he does not rise to the dimensions of previous Eastwood heroes. Corvine may be the team leader, but it is Hawk Hawkins, played by the appreciably younger Jones, who assumes the role that Eastwood would have played if Space Cowboys had been made in, say, 1975. It is Hawkins who successfully woos an attractive engineer (Marcia Gay Harden), while the lewd O’Neill has the best comic lines as he tries to seduce all and sundry; Corvine is a happily married man. Furthermore, it is Hawkins who makes the ultimate sacrifice, not Corvine. (This contrasts with the ages of the older sacrificial figure, played by Bruce Willis, and the younger survivor, played by Ben Affleck, in the space adventure film Armageddon [Michael Bay, 1998].) Rather, Corvine’s function is to act as guardian. In this regard, Eastwood’s character has affinities with the figures he played in Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood, 1980) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976).

Although a very different film, Space Cowboys arguably forms a humorous counterpoint to Unforgiven. Both films involve old men conscious of their youthful failures. Each has achieved celebrity status, each comes out of retirement to undertake a last mission. Of course, the trajectory of the Eastwood character in these films moves in opposite directions. Despite his insistence that he is a reformed man, William Munny is ultimately unable to escape his former life or sins: he assumes the mantle of legend and commits further atrocities. Frank Corvine, though, is able to accomplish his goal of giving Team Daedalus the chance to fly in space. Thus, through its melancholic denial of the infirmities of age Space Cowboys affirms the possibility of making reparations for the past.

Furthermore, this contrast between Unforgiven and Space Cowboys points to the assorted paths that the Eastwood screen persona has taken in recent years. While it seems that each of the characters Eastwood has played in the films discussed here is troubled and remorseful, there are by no means any definitive answers to the questions posed in the introduction to this article. Although these films place the Eastwood persona at their centre, there is a prevailing inconsistency to how this cultural icon, greying though he may be, is figured. Rather, as Taubin contends, the contradictions pertaining to the Eastwood persona “are not resolved within any single Eastwood film, but are played out across the entire body of his work as an actor and director”. (12) Perhaps the only certainty is that while Eastwood the actor may move further into the shadows that so often seem to envelop his recent characters, it would seem that his interrogation of masculinity in all its flawed facets will continue in his work as a director.

* * *

This piece was refereed.


Kapsis, Robert E. and Kathie Coblentz (eds.), Clint Eastwood: Interviews, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999

Lehman, Peter, “In an Imperfect World, Men with Small Penises are Unforgiven: The Representation of the Penis/Phallus in American Films of the 1990s”, Men and Masculinities, October 1998, pp. 123-137

Murphy, Kathleen, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Clint Eastwood as Romantic Hero”, Film Comment, May/June 1996, pp. 16-22

Smith, Paul, Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production, London: University College London Press, 1993

Taubin, Amy, “An Upright Man”, Sight and Sound, September 1993, pp. 9-10

Verniere, James, “Clint Eastwood Stepping Out”, Sight and Sound, September 1993, pp. 6-9


  1. Henry Sheehan, “Scraps of Hope: Clint Eastwood and the Western”, Film Comment, September/October 1992, p.17
  2. Thus, since Eastwood does not appear in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, it will not be discussed here.
  3. Amy Taubin, “An Upright Man”, Sight and Sound, September 1993, p.10
  4. James Verniere, “Clint Eastwood Stepping Out”, Sight and Sound, September 1993, p. 8
  5. Taubin, p. 10
  6. Taubin, p. 10
  7. Paul Smith argues that the way in which Eastwood is framed as an actor operates according to “a little semiotics of the heroized male body”. This typology is comprised of the 45° shot, as well as low-angle, under-the-chin shots, heavily backlit shots, and tracking shots that avoid centring the figure in the frame. While these conventions originated with Don Siegel, they were adopted by Eastwood and others when directing Eastwood the actor. See Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production, p. 158.
  8. Taubin, p. 10
  9. See Peter Lehmann, “In an Imperfect World, Men with Small Penises are Unforgiven: The Representation of the Penis/Phallus in American Films of the 1990s”. Men and Masculinities, October 1998, pp. 123-137.
  10. See Robert E. Kapsis and Kathie Coblentz eds., Clint Eastwood: Interviews, p. 216.
  11. Kathleen Murphy, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Clint Eastwood as Romantic Hero”, Film Comment, May/June 1996, pp. 16-22
  12. Taubin, p. 10

About The Author

Tim Groves currently teaches in the Media Program at RMIT University.

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