Saturday, January 27, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Masters of the Hollywood system like Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Preston Sturges were still making movies when Clint Eastwood was a boy. “When I grew up there was such a variety of movies being made,” Eastwood told LA Weekly. “You could go see Sergeant York or Sitting Pretty or Sullivan’s Travels, dozens of pictures, not to mention all the great B movies.”

The boy was obviously paying attention, but there was a limit to how much he could absorb. Now in his 70s, Eastwood is still making movies in the honorable tradition of the studio system of the 30s and 40s. At his best, in films as different in tone as Bronco Billy and Bird, he skates up to the outskirts of art, demonstrating a clear-eyed understanding of the world and a moving affinity for hapless visionaries. But in the end, Eastwood is not an artist but a master craftsman, and his work often slides into cliche. Shooting fast and frequently and priding himself on staying within budget, he's a polished professional whose films nearly always entertain but too often feel comfortingly familiar.