Clint Eastwood: America’s Actor

Although he is not the most versatile in his acting talents, no actor in cinema history is more iconographic than Clint Eastwood. His 57-year screen career is more tied to America itself than that of fellow American acting icons such as John Wayne or James Stewart. Eastwood’s most recent movie, “Trouble With the Curve,” directed by his friend and frequent producer Robert Lorenz, is his first on-screen-only role since Wolfgang Peterson’s 1993 thriller, “In the Line of Fire.” Here are some of Eastwood’s best and most iconographic acting roles:

-The Man with No Name in the “Dollars Trilogy”

It was Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” that not only launched Eastwood to stardom, but made him a definitive icon of the Western film genre. Beginning with “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961), Eastwood played a drifter with ambiguous aims. Eventually, he fights against corrupt village officials to instill his own brand of social justice. The series continued with “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). It was in these movies that Eastwood perfected his oft-parodied leer and intense stance.

-Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry series

“You’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” and “Go ahead, make my day” are two quotes that have entered America’s pop culture lexicon. Those phrases were uttered by Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” (1971) and “Sudden Impact” (1983) respectively. Although Eastwood will forever be associated with the Western genre, he played the “cop who doesn’t play by the rules,” a character since trampled into overuse, in five Dirty Harry movies. In addition to the ones mentioned above, they include “Magnum Force” (1973), “The Enforcer” (1976) and “The Dead Pool” (1988). The series was successful in creatively portraying the bureaucratic and moral issues that plagued police departments in the 1970s as they combated both crime waves and corruption within themselves.

-Josey Wales in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)

“The Outlaw Josey Wales” is a masterpiece in both the Western and war film genres. Upending expectations of an American-made Civil War movie, the movie follows a Missouri farmer who joins the Confederate cause. A character that defies any sort of easy placement in Union vs. Confederacy discourse, Wales swore himself to the Confederate cause after his family was killed by a band of Union soldiers. Throughout the film, he remains loyal to Confederates even after everyone else in his troupe surrenders. The movie shows a Confederate that justifies itself not by abhorrent ideals such as slavery and violence, but because of freedom and peace.

-William Munney in “Unforgiven” (1992)

Another of Eastwood’s masterpieces, “Unforgiven” is a Western styled in neo-noir that won Eastwood his first Oscars for directing and Best Picture. Eastwood plays an aging pig farmer who has repented for his past as a violent bandit. However, an old friend convinces him to take up his gun once again to kill two cowboys in a nearby town who disfigured a girl. On his way, Munney recruits Ned Logan (played by Morgan Freeman), another gunfighter, to help him out. Munney must not only face the new brand of young vicious killers, but deal with ghosts from his own violent past.

-Walt Kowalski in “Gran Torino” (2008)

Embodying the very stereotype of the crotchety old man who demands everyone to displace themselves from his lawn, “Gran Torino” is the last movie Eastwood both directed and acted in. Kowalski is a retired auto worker and veteran, and was widowed after a 50-year marriage. The drama is set in a decrepit Detroit neighborhood whose defining features are poor Asian immigrants and gang violence. The movie deals with Eastwood’s implicitly racist character taking himself out of isolation to help his neighbors and face the gang members intimidating them.