By 76, most directors have put their heavy lifting behind them, their pace slowing, the quality of their films waning. Not Clint Eastwood. For the follow-up to his 2004 Academy Awards champ “Million Dollar Baby,” Eastwood chose the World War II epic “Flags of Our Fathers,” chronicling the Iwo Jima invasion and the convoluted drama behind the legendary photo of troops raising the flag there.
Shot in the United States and at Iwo Jima and Iceland, the film has a scope that might exhaust a director half his age.
The film comes after a remarkable resurgence that began with 2003’s morality play “Mystic River,” launching Eastwood into the ranks of Hollywood’s most revered directors after a career built on Westerns and the “Dirty Harry” vigilante thrillers.
Why is Eastwood at the top of his game at an age when most directors slow down, lose their edge or simply retire?
“Genetics, I don’t know,” Eastwood, whose mother died this year at 97, said. “My father always said you’ve got to keep learning, keep expanding or you will decline the other way. I’ve always adhered to that.”
Eastwood follows “Flags of Our Fathers” with next year’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” the story of the battle from the perspective of Japanese soldiers defending the island. After editing “Flags of Our Fathers,” Eastwood shot “Letters From Iwo Jima” in a six-week flurry while finishing touches were being applied to the first film.
The two films come after his boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby” won best picture, director, actress (Hilary Swank) and supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) at the 2004 Oscars, a year after “Mystic River” had hurtled Eastwood back to Oscar form.
Eastwood seemingly had hit a career high with 1992’s Western “Unforgiven,” which earned him best-picture and director Oscars, as well as a best-actor nomination. A solid but unremarkable decade followed with such films as the weepy romance “The Bridges of Madison County,” the crime thriller “Absolute Power” and the court drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
As he turned 70, Eastwood appeared to be fading, directing and starring in the dreary astronaut adventure “Space Cowboys” and the drearier crime tale “Blood Work.”
Then came “Mystic River,” which won acting Oscars for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins and earned best-picture and directing nominations, and “Million Dollar Baby,” which set Eastwood among the likes of Billy Wilder, David Lean, Steven Spielberg (a producer on “Flags of Our Fathers”) and other directors who have won multiple Oscars.
Eastwood does not appear in “Flags of Our Fathers” or “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which stars Ken Watanabe as Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who led the Japanese defense of the island. After “Mystic River,” in which he also does not appear, Eastwood began thinking he would prefer to remain behind the camera.
“Then all of a sudden, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ comes along, and there’s a great part in it there for a guy my age,” said Eastwood, nominated for best actor as a crusty boxing coach. “So I’ll never say never, because somebody maybe will come up with a good role someday, but I’m not out looking for it. I’m not out soliciting.”
One new role he could not resist was reprising Harry Callahan, providing the voice for an upcoming “Dirty Harry” video game. “I get to be me as a young guy again,” Eastwood said. “Revisit my youth.”
Read Tribune movie critic
Craig Outhier’s review of
“Flags of Our Fathers” at