Now that the inventory of summer popcorn movies has finally been exhausted, the stage is set for the more “serious” fall fare. That means it’s Clint Eastwood time.
Clint has two movies coming out before year’s end. That is, two separate movies with the same story. Actually, not the same story; not even the same language. Just the same setting.
Who else, one might ask, could pull off a scheme like this? Who else would even have the muscle to do so?
Clint, it seems, has a sensibility different from anyone else making movies these days. Also a different clock. At a time of life when most of us grow more conservative, Clint , now in his mid-70s, takes even bigger risks.
Hence, “Flags of Our Fathers,” a movie about the battle for Iwo Jima 60-plus years ago, will open Oct. 20. “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Clint’s Japanese-language movie on the same subject, but from the Japanese point of view, will open two months later.
Thus, the possibility exists that Clint will be the first filmmaker in history to have two films in awards contention in the same year, in two different languages.
Clint’s grand design is for the two films to complement, but not repeat, each other.
Hence, one scene in “Flags” shows American soldiers chatting in their foxhole, when suddenly one of them disappears, having been yanked into a tunnel by the Japanese. The Japanese film does not show the Americans, but rather the Japanese who are pulling down the American soldier.
All this is both innovative and daring. In a sense, so are all Clint’s recent films, like “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
Talk to Clint about this and he gets skittish. There is no auteur shtick in his make-up — he’s a working director, just like he was formerly a working actor.
I got to know him as a young actor and here’s the dirty little secret: He was a great guy. He was not distanced, like the young Redford, or pathologically self-protective, like the young Beatty. And he never gave expression to his ambitions to become a “serious” filmmaker. I always felt he was rather bemused by his own success.
Typically, his decision to make “Flags” was not accompanied by a blast of publicity. Steven Spielberg had actually worked on the piece for a few years with screenwriter William Broyles. Clint then hired Paul Haggis to write a draft. (This was before “Crash.”)
Clint is now completing post-production on both films with an eye to opening both at the Tokyo Film Festival in October.
The distribution pattern is predictably complex: Warner Bros. is handling both films overseas along with DreamWorks, now owned by Paramount, which is distributing “Flags” in the U.S. The production costs of the two films together is under $70 million. There are no big stars involved: Ryan Phillippe is in “Flags” and Ken Watanabe in “Letters.”
How will they be received?
Well, Clint is on a roll. The critics love him, even though he makes no effort to patronize them. He does his “aw shucks” interviews, shakes a few hands and is on his way. No one would describe him as a great raconteur. He’s a guy doing his job.
And filmgoers respond accordingly. Opening numbers are never extraordinary — he’s not giving them a pirate movie. The films open and they hold. The audiences keep coming, almost ritualistically.
A Clint Eastwood movie, it seems, causes them to expect something special. And his two new companion films probably will deliver.