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Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Top Ten Clint Eastwood Anti-heroes

Clint Eastwood's birthday was yesterday, and it prompted me to take a look at his contribution to the antihero in film. I've been meaning to do an Eastwood list for ages, but it's easy to take him for granted. As far as anti-heroes go, Eastwood is practically the role model. He is one of the most distinctive actors in American film and is as talented a director, although I'm only looking at his roles here. His craggy features, menacing squint and gravelly voice have always ensured he won't be playing any pretty boy parts. He can produce more fear with his glare than most tough guy actors can with days of prep time. Ever since Leone's Dollars trilogy, it would be tough to figure out what the difference is between the Man with no Name and Eastwood himself, as most of his parts make full use of those elements he's known for.

Where John Wayne is the wholesome Western hero, Eastwood is the meaner more contemporary version, free of the old idealism of the white hat. The Eastwood anti-heroes just do what they have to do, which can often be unsettling to the squeamish. I have no trouble believing that his character in "High Plains Drifter" for example could set out to humiliate and destroy a whole town without changing his expression once. However, as tough, mean, and unyielding as he is, he typically ends up on the side of the angels, lucky for us all. We admire him because beneath it all is a fierce and unyielding integrity. Unlike Wayne's larger than life heroes, Eastwood's characters really hurt and really hurt back. He's used to high stakes but you won't see him give up. Picking a definitive top ten would be impossible, but here's a stab at it. Let me know if there's one I missed that you would have included. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Happy Birthday Clint, and thanks for so many years of amazement!

10) Frank Horrigan, In the Line of Fire
Frank is an aged Secret Service agent, skilled but haunted by the fact that John F. Kennedy died under his protection. When the current president becomes the target of an ex CIA psychopath (John Malkovitch)  he has a chance to get it right this time, although with many disadvantages, like his age and the fact that the would be killer has studied every aspect of his life. Frank is a character whose failure haunts his entire life, although this doesn't make him less skilled or dedicated. This is a character firmly in Eastwood's lonely and haunted tradition, but in this case he's a little more by the book.

9) Dave, Play Misty for Me

Dave is a long way away from the characters Clint usually plays, not at all concerned with being a tough guy, as his main interest is what woman to get into bed with that night. He isn't particularly concerned with consequences or the feelings of the women involved. At least he isn't until a one night stand isn't willing to let it go at that and begins stalking him. She goes to great lengths to stay in Dave's life willing to commit violence and even murder to have what she wants. Dave himself is forced to great extremes to get free of her. This is a great portrait of a fairly normal if egocentric and selfish guy who has to pay for his carelessness more than most.

8)Frankie Dunn, Million Dollar Baby

Frank is a top notch boxing trainer who is basically done with the fight game, and with human relationships in general, except for his friendship with Scrap (Morgan Freeman) an ex fighter he had trained who now manages Frankie's gym. Frankie is haunted by deep guilt towards his estranged family. When a woman boxer Maggie (Hillary Swank) persists in demanding he train her, they find themselves forming the deepest of relationships. Frank and Maggie both see a chance for something good, but when life doesn't cooperate, his devotion is sadly tested. Riveting and deep performance.

7)Walt Kowalski, Gran Torino

Walt is a bitter and unrepentantly harsh Korean war veteran, who has just lost this wife. He is also a proud racist, whose neighbors happen to be Hmong. Walt makes no effort to tolerate the local priest or even his own family. Thao, (Bee Vang) the teenage Hmong boy is pressured by a gang to help steal Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino, an attempt Walt easily repels them pointing a gun at Thao's face. Thao attempts to resist the gang when they get forceful, compelling Walt to step in, saving Thao a beating. Embraced by his Hmong neighbors, who he still refers to as "Gooks" he is forced to accept their gratitude and Thao starts doing chores to make amends for his transgression. Walt begins taking an interest in the boy, getting him a job and trying to keep him out of trouble, while providing some sort of father figure as well. The gang however, isn't happy with this and soon drastic measures are required, which Walt handles quite cleverly, if a bit sadly.

6)The Stranger, High Plains Drifter

The Stranger arrives, sneering, in the town of Lago and finds he is very unwelcome. It soon becomes clear that he has little regard for them either, killing them at every provocation, and raping a woman who insults his manners. The Stranger recalls another man who once called to all the townsfolk for help, in vain, while being beaten to death. When the town faces another threat, they turn to the Strange for help, when he's reluctant they offer him "anything he wants" in the town, which he takes full advantage of. His plan to save them however includes painting the whole town red and painting "Hell" over the Lago sign. It becomes clear that the brutal stranger has a special grudge, with many debts he plans to collect, and may be much more than he appears to be.

5) Frank Morris, Escape from Alcatraz,

Frank Morris is a bank robber and a genius sent to Alcatraz, where he's told that no one has ever escaped. He isn't content with this idea, and begins getting to know the prison and its inmates, while planning exactly how he'll be the first to escape.Frank figures out how to make allies and deal with enemies and prison guards all while putting the details of his escape into place for many months until he and his friends are ready to make their move. Based on actual events, we are left with some blanks to fill in, but we can't help but admire Frank's intelligence and unstoppable spirit, not content with "no one's ever done it" as an excuse, despite the fact that he was clearly not in Alcatraz by accident.

4)Josey Wales, The Outlaw Josey Wales

The end of the Civil War doesn't eliminate tension between the Union and Confederate soldiers. Confederate Josey Wales plans to go home, but finds his home destroyed and family murdered by Union soldiers. He joins a group of Confederate guerrillas, becoming an outlaw since the South's surrender has been accepted. Wales starts a life on the run, gathering an interesting group of travelling companions in the process who remind him he's still human. He is forced to figure out how to arrange a reckoning and also to get past that and live his life, such as it is. Fortunately there are some on both sides who see the sense in moving on, accepting that "we all died a little in that damn war."

3)Blondie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Blondie (The Good) is a wandering gunman/bounty hunter in the Civil War West. Blondie has an arrangement with wanted outlaw, Tuco (Eli Wallach, "the Ugly") We see Blondie's unconventional style when he turns in Tuco only to break him out just before execution, so they can split the bounty.Tuco's bounty goes up and they try it again at the next town.  Blondie gets tired of Tuco, however, and leaves him in the desert keeping all their money for himself. Tuco resolves to kill Blondie and foils an attempt to use the same scheme with another outlaw.Tuco's revenge is interrupted by an encounter with a dying man, who knows the location of a treasure, which only Blondie hears which forces them into partnership again. Another man, the ruthless killer Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef, "the Bad") is looking for the now dead man and his treasure. Blondie changes partnerships, throwing in with Angel eyes, though Tuco follows behind leading to an original three way show down, ending with Blondie's observation that "there are two kinds of people, those with loaded guns, and those that dig." The last of the "Dollars trilogy" featuring "the Man with No Name" all featuring Eastwood's most well known antihero, the stoic rugged loner, who may be labelled "Good" but isn't that far away from "the Bad."

2)Dirty Harry, Harry Callahan

Perhaps Eastwood's most popular character, Dirty Harry Callahan is a cop who isn't interested except by using a bigger gun. Faced with a cartoonishly evil psycho killer, and bound by the bureaucracy behind due process, he chooses to do things his own way in order to avoid more murders. The film that coined the classic line "Do ya feel lucky punk, Well do ya?" He clearly struck the public's imagination and endured with several sequels. Harry has a similar mentality to Eastwood's western characters, although they come across very differently in a "civilized" and urban setting. He's as trigger happy as the Man with No Name, but also bound to uphold the law, which makes for an interesting dilemma more suitable for tough one liners delivered with his trademark squint. Less morally ambiguous than the Man With No Name, but far from clear cut. At least his excess is only aimed at the bad guys.

1)William Munny, The Unforgiven, 

The Unforgiven seems to be Eastwood's statement on the Western anti-heroes he'd portrayed over the years, and in my opinion, it may well be the finest western ever made. William Munny is a retired assassin, who was according to many, including himself, more evil than he was morally challenged. We meet him after he's hung up his guns to get married, attempting to make a living from his ranch and raise his kids even after his wife dies. His infamy however, remains intact and he's soon sought out by The Schofield Kid a would be gunslinger who enlists Munny and his longtime friend and associate Ned (Morgan Freeman) to help him collect a bounty on some cowboys who "cut up a whore." in the town of Big Whiskey. The mission is complicated by the town's sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) who deals brutally with all assassins coming to look for the bounty. Munny and little Bill head for a brutal face off, and we see that as far as violence goes, when deciding who lives and dies, "We all got it comin'" and "deserve's got nothing to do with it."


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you got around to this top ten Brent. I've had no knowledge of any of the films you've posted about recently but I'm on more familiar ground when it comes to Clint and his work.
You're right that it's impossible to narrow it down to a definitive ten and my list would differ from yours mainly because I'm not familiar with any of Clint's more recent films.
I totally agree with you're number as well, I saw Unforgiven at the cinema when it was released and the impact that film and the William Munny character had on me has always stayed in my mind!

INDBrent said...

Thanks Paul! I've had some trouble getting to your blog just FYI. It says it moved or no longer exists evertie I try. Yeah ten is tough, I could've included many more films but tried to mix it up a bit. The Ungforgiven is quite simply a masterpiece!

Dave said...

Fantastic list, Brent. As a big fan of Eastwood's, it was a pleasure to revisit his iconic roles listed in your post. I wouldn't change anything, except only to note Tightrope. Not a great film by any means, but it's one of his darker roles, a cop who cannot control his sexual urges. Not exactly a trait of your typical movie hero.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Dave! Yes that would be a good pick, as yesit's mainly the roles I was looking at and that one was out there! He has so many terrific movies!

M. Hufstader said...

Great list! I'm officially ashamed by how few Clint Eastwood films I've seen. Dirty Harry is high up on my list of must-sees, and now I've got to put Unforgiven there. Especially since they ranked above the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which would've been my number one.

INDBrent said...

Thanks! I would have to say that while, yes, Dirty Harry is a must see, it is kinda dated. The Unforgiven however, seeing as you are a such a fan of all things BAMF may well just blow your mind. (WHich in no way diminishes "Good, Bad and the Ugly")

Anonymous said...

Brent, it's no wonder you've had trouble getting to my blog because I've actually deleted it, but hey that's no problem.
Getting back to Clint Eastwood, Dave comes up with a good one in the shape of Tightrope and after thinking about it I'd also add Coogan from Coogan's Bluff and the preacher from Pale Rider, even though the character and the film are very reminiscent of High Plains Drifter!
I think after reading this post I might revisit some of Clint's films this week.

BRENT said...

I would have screamed and said you should be banned from blogging about movies if you hadn't put Unforgiven on top!!!!!!!!! But somehow i knew you would.
Great post namesake and of the usual quality and thought as usual. Clint is number one with me period, both as an actor and director. There are better in both roles but Eastwood just does it for me personally.
I like how you have added Escape From Alcatraz as I think it was of his roles that is often overlooked. Hard choice for me between Harry and Blondie though!! Such great roles and yet GBU is the better film than Dirty Harry by far. Harry is just so iconic as a cinematic figure though. I lie how Blondie is moere likeable than Harry and yet remains so enigmatic. You can't decide if he is good or bad, the perfect anti-hero!

INDBrent said...

@Paul. alright. as long as it isn't just me. Still, let me know if you put anything new up, at whatever address. Yeah Tightrope and Coogan's Bluff could both easily find a spot. I very nearly included Pale Rider, but I thought "Drifter" was a bit stronger and for the sake of variety...I hope you do, that's always enjoyable!

INDBrent said...

@BRENT, Thanks! yeah the Unforgiven has an edge in that it was informed by all the movies that went before it. It's a tough one to beat!Thanks for the kind words. Eastwood is definitely a force unto himself!

Unknown said...

Love Eastwood and this is a great list, but I would never have included Horrigan. I just did not like that movie and did not like that character. I much preferred Pvt. Kelly in Kelly's Heroes and Marshall Jed Cooper in Hang 'Em High. Coogan in Coogan's Bluff and Morris Schaffer in Where Eagles Dare also come to mind. I do agree with all the rest, though, wholeheartedly. What a tough list to put together.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Melissa! Sure, I can appreciate that. Any of your suggestions would be worth a spot on the list for sure. I did like the Horrigan character though, and the concept of the failure to prevent a previous assassination haunting his whole life. But ultimately it comes down to it being really tough to choose ten! Thanks for your kind words!

La Crona said...

Thanks Brent.

I have seen many movies with Eastwood but I would like to turn the tables and consider number ten as number one as both Eastwood and Malkovich are doing genius roles in
"In the line of fire".

INDBrent said...

Thanks Mattias! "In the Line of Fire" is a fine movie and yes both actors are great, but personally you'd have a hard time convincing me to budge the top three! But hey, your list can be different than mine, they're all fine films!Thanks for stopping in!

Unknown said...

Big fan of Eastwood's and thoroughly enjoyed this list. Nice to see IN THE LINE OF FIRE just make the cut. I don't know if I'd call his character in that film an anti-hero per se. Sure, he's a maverick within the Secret Service but he still basically plays by the rules and is a good guy who does the right thing when it comes down to it.

INDBrent said...

Hi J.D. Thank you and glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, I'd agree that Horrigan is questionable, not a clear cut anti-hero like most of the others. Perhaps closer to a deeply troubled hero type, but he shares some grey elements, and is close enough in my opinion for number ten, although I doubt I would ever do a post exclusively on his character!

Emm said...

Brilliant, brilliant list! It makes me want to hire them all and spend a weekend stuck on the sofa! Play Misty for Me was an early favourite - I was nicknamed Misty when I was about 12 or 13 but then my baby cousin Miriam couldn't pronounce her name and became Mitsy and I became Emm soon afterwards.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Emm! So glad you enjoyed it! I was tempted to run an Eastwood marathon myself while making the list! "Play Misty" was a different one, but such a cool movie, although it may be for the nest that you got some distance from that one!