Eastwood Factor: Extended Version, The (DVD Review)31 May, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Look up “hagiography” in what my waggish buddies of the 1980s used to call “your Larry King dictionary,” and you’ll find this authorized documentary written, directed and produced by critic and Clint Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel. It’s also narrated by prominent Eastwood co-star Morgan Freeman.
If you know this going in and don’t expect too much, the clips here bring back memories, and Eastwood mentions beer just enough times in the course of his interviews to make you think he’s likely somebody with whom it would be fun to have one. But you won’t learn much beyond the documentary’s box art subject (“35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.”) and nothing of Eastwood’s private life — not that the advertising ever implies anything to the contrary.
Expanded some from a previous DVD version that exclusively accompanied a $180 Eastwood boxed set that Warner Home Entertainment issued in February, it deals barely, if it all, with the actor/director’s early bit part days at Universal-International and, later, his first times on the Warner lot. Or, TV’s “Rawhide”; the career-saving Sergio Leone Westerns; the actor’s mentoring by director Don Siegel at Universal; and Eastwood’s early days at that studio as a fledgling director, starting with 1971’s Play Misty for Me. Of course, once we get to the mid-1970s, almost all of Eastwood’s films have been at Warner, with the acting exception of In the Line of the Fire and a handful of directing credits.
The nice thing about authorized documentaries is access, and here we’re allowed to enter a storage room where Eastwood’s old costumes are kept, including the Marine garb from Heartbreak Ridge and the spacesuit from Space Cowboys. There’s also an excellent sequence about the filming of Unforgiven that cuts directly from the videotaped staging of a scene right on the set to the exact same scene as rendered on screen.
But it’s just as true that in an authorized job, no one is going to come out and talk out the pronounced peaks and valleys in Eastwood’s career — which is one of the traits that has made it interesting. The one-two punch of Unforgiven and Line of Fire (which Wolfgang Petersen directed) was so dramatic and sustaining that we sometimes forget that it represented an Eastwood comeback from The Dead Pool (a.k.a. tired Dirty Harry 5); stinkers Pink Cadillac and The Rookie plus the ambitious but only adequately realized White Hunter, Black Heart. And the generally robust twilight streak that began with 2003’s Mystic River came after Absolute Power, the hugely disappointing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, True Crime and Blood Work (I’ll exclude Space Cowboys despite its just OK reception because I’ve always kind of liked it).
Eastwood has always liked John Huston, who directed a lot of clunkers that his fans always shove under the rug — yet one who also capped his career by directing Under The Volcano, Prizzi’s Honor and The Dead at a very advanced age. This is the drama that a great Eastwood documentary might provide. But instead, Factor is merely a pleasing afternoon chat with a filmmaker who never said “let’s just do Westerns” or “let’s just do cop dramas” but surprised us at every Boston-boxing ring-Iwo Jima-South Africa turn (and that’s just recently). Even now, Eastwood is prepping a biopic on J. Edgar Hoover — 48 years after he (Eastwood, that is, not Hoover, great as that would have been) did a guest shot on an episode of “Mr. Ed.”