Despite the fascinating arc of Clint Eastwood’s work as an actor and director, Richard Schickel’s ode to that impressive filmography — premiering on Turner Classic Movies in advance of a compilation DVD release — never cuts much beneath the grizzled surface. Part of that has to do with Eastwood himself, who is clearly less comfortable expounding on his movies than making them, unlike the critic-documentarian’s previous retrospectives with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Notably, those bore the “Spielberg on Spielberg” title, whereas “The Eastwood Factor” — an equation that still remains mysterious after 88 pleasant minutes — seems aptly named.
Schickel — who also assembled “You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story” — touches on Eastwood’s long relationship with the studio, a marriage dating back to Frank Wells and “The Outlaw Jose Wales” in the mid-1970s. But he doesn’t fully develop that thread.
Although his second career as a director began 40 years ago with “Play Misty for Me” (and 1988’s “Bird” earned critical plaudits), Schickel rightly notes that the Eastwood of the ’70s and ’80s was defined by the “Dirty Harry” sequels, which made his qualitative leap in the early ’90s — beginning with “Unforgiven,” “Clint’s first fully acknowledged masterpiece” — all the more remarkable.
Narrated by Morgan Freeman (and one can never go wrong with that decision), the project offers generous clips from the movies that followed — “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Gran Torino,” “Invictus” — but would have benefited, given Eastwood’s taciturn nature, from bringing other voices into the discussion.
The most personal section comes at the end, when Eastwood is shown in Carmel, playing golf and enjoying the idyllic setting of a place where, as he acknowledges, he can blend in, without being shackled by movie-star trappings.
The latest cinematic chapters for Eastwood have been artful ones, elevating him to the ranks of directors who rightfully merit such a tribute. Yet while “The Eastwood Factor” serves as a carefully guided tour through the Warner Bros. portion of a storied resume, it won’t make anyone’s day.