In 1980, Clint Eastwood turned 50 and was just getting started as a serious filmmaker/crowd-pleasing superstar. Two of my favorite titles from this era are Bronco Billy (1980) and A Perfect World (1993), but I’ve excluded them since I’ve already written about those.
During these two decades, Clint also made his share of duds. Tightrope (1984), City Heat (1984), Pink Cadillac (1989), and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) have not been salvaged by time or nostalgia, unfortunately. But…
Here are the good ones.
- Sudden Impact (1983)
Eastwood expertly brings his most iconic character, “Dirty” Harry Callahan, into the 80s with what is a pretty ludicrous story, but one that’s so damned entertaining you don’t care. The 1980s demanded “moments,” and Clint served them up in crowd-pleasing style.
Good old 1983 was one year after I got my driver’s license, and the first year I had my own money and car. I must’ve seen this at the 79-cent theater a hundred times.
“Go ahead, make my day.”
- Pale Rider (1985)
Although nowhere near as good as its inspiration (director George Stevens’ 1953 masterpiece Shane), the most financially successful Western of the ’80s has aged beautifully. At the time, we were all expecting a violent shoot-’em-up, which, at times, Pale Rider most certainly is. But it’s also something quite graceful and beautifully acted (especially by Michael Moriarty).
Pale Rider also signifies where Eastwood is headed as America’s finest director of parables. Like the Bible, Pale Rider is full of violence. But you will also find the story of the Good Samaritan (a foreigner helping someone when his own people won’t) and a people living in God’s creation faced with the stark choice of choosing to follow the Risen Jesus (as personified by Eastwood’s Preacher) who wields a righteous sword or to follow Satan (the mining company).
Follow Satan, and you will die in the mud of the strip-mining Hell he’s creating.
Have faith, and you will live.
- Heartbreak Ridge (1986)
Eastwood has so much fun playing Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway; you can’t help but smile the whole way through as he whips a bunch of babyfaces into a fighting platoon ready to take Grenada.
We’ve all seen this movie a hundred times before, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not about the boilerplate, it’s about the execution of that boilerplate, and this is as good as execution gets.
- In the Line of Fire (1993)
Fresh off winning all those Oscars for Unforgiven, Eastwood turned himself over to director Wolfgang Petersen for this box office smash about a Secret Service agent (Clint) haunted by his past and then forced to face it.
Commercial movie-making at its best, and Clint is so comfortable in his middle-aged skin, it’s not at all surprising, nearly 30 years later, he’s still a movie star.
- Unforgiven (1992)
Everything Eastwood wants to say about death and violence, regret, aging, and myth-making, is all right here. No one walked into the theater expecting anything other than a good old-fashioned Clint Eastwood Western. What we got instead was so much better: a poetic, violent, and unforgettable reminder that death and dying and living with being the bringer of both is not a movie, son.