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December 16, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
News that Clint Eastwood will be filming for three days in Lahaina next month was followed last weekend by the opening of his new “Invictus.”
Clint’s playing Maui’s Santa Claus this holiday season, bringing gifts in a variety of packages for the island economy as well as film lovers.
Eastwood will direct a Malpaso Productions/ Warner Bros. crew of around 100 for three days of shooting on “Hereafter” in Lahaina in January. The film is described as a supernatural thriller along the lines of “The Sixth Sense,” interweaving three parallel stories as its characters search for answers about what lies after death.
It creatively reunites the multi-Oscar-winning 79-year-old Eastwood with his “Flags of Our Fathers” — “Letters from Iwo Jima” collaborator Steven Spielberg, one of five executive producers on “Hereafter.”
“Hereafter” stars Matt Damon, although he won’t be in the scenes filming on Maui. He is, however, in “Invictus,” Eastwood’s stirring return to Nelson Mandela’s South Africa in 1994.
Considering that he first became an international icon in the ’60s as “the man with no name” — and almost no words — in a string of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, it’s amazing to see Eastwood’s evolution into one of today’s most articulate filmmakers, even if he still needs precious few words to tell his stories.
Now he’s more of a December kind of director. That’s when film awards happen, and each of his new projects has a way of being in the running. When Golden Globe nominations were announced earlier this week, he got another one for directing “Invictus” along with acting nods to Damon and Morgan Freeman’s brilliant portrayal of Mandela.
Eastwood speaks the language of cinema, telling stories in a straightforward, muscular way. This camouflages the human complexities at their core. His stars Freeman and Damon are masters of techniques he perfected decades ago, writing wordless volumes with the subtlest of facial expressions, making the camera a partner in the dialogue.
At the other end of the spectrum, “Invictus” is about the hugest of human issues — the land of South Africa going through the seismic change of electing a black president to a society previously ruled by the cruel oppression of apartheid.
Mandela’s decades of hard labor in prison are recalled in ghosty flashbacks. In places, “Invictus” — which draws its title from the poem that gave him inspiration during his incarceration — is reminiscent of the passionate political filmmaking of directors like Costa-Gavras.
But Eastwood takes a different tack. Instead of tackling all the implications Mandela faced, assuming rule over the society that had tried to break him, he goes instead for the metaphor of South Africa’s Springbok rugby team.
With their close-copped blond hair, white skin and proclivity for literally slugging it out in the mud, the team had been a symbol of Afrikaner supremacy, and the bellicose racism of their supporters.
Mandela’s plan to enlist the team’s captain (Damon) to make the Springboks his allies was a risky political strategy for the new president. Spurring Damon to lead his mediocre team to be better than they knew they could be was an act of even greater faith.
His hair bleached blond, his body buffed rugby tough, Damon loses himself in the portrayal of the athlete who’s better at playing the game than at understanding anything more complex.
When he realizes, “I think he wants us to win the World Cup,” Damon’s face rather than his words convey all that’s involved.
Like this season’s other hit sports movie — Sandra Bullock’s “The Blind Side” — “Invictus” is less about victory than inspiration.
Just like Like Eastwood’s career.
When he won Oscars for best picture and best director of 1992’s “Unforgiven” — a parable about an unredeemed Old West gun-for-hire he had played so often in his career — it seemed a summation or pinnacle
But instead, he made that the starting point for the next — and faraway most brilliant — phase of his career. Each new film since then has broken new ground, taking and meeting new challenges on scales both grander and more intimate.
No longer having to claim “Unforgiven” as a monument, like Mandela, Eastwood has learned the path to redemption lies through the valley of forgiveness.
It seems a spiritual quest almost as much as an artistic one. With “Hereafter” he’ll help us discover what comes next.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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