As far as Hollywood is concerned, Clint Eastwood may have just turned “Unforgiven” from his crowning achievement as a director into the attitude that buries what may have been left of his career.
It’s hard not to wonder if Eastwood’s surprise appearance at the Republican National Convention Thursday night will affect his relationships in Hollywood. For a long time, Eastwood has had the respect of moviegoers and industry colleagues alike, despite his political beliefs. Money and talent trump most anything. And yet, he may have just crossed a line.
Does Beyonce now drop out of Eastwood’s planned remake of “A Star Is Born?” Does his new film, the baseball drama “Trouble With the Curve,” tank at the box office or gain audiences on the right? How will the RNC stunt affect his relationship with Warner Bros.? It was only a few weeks ago that WB chairman Barry Meyer threw a fundraiser for First Lady Michelle Obama at his home, along with Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov. Perhaps Meyer’s playing both sides, but still, how does he watch that strange performance and not have it in his head every time he meets with Eastwood going forward?
Besides, an 82-year-old man talking to someone who isn’t there? Isn’t that a little too on-the-nose for a party of old white men who come off as batty at best, deliberately ignorant at worst? Yikes. That “big tent” is already the size of a cocktail napkin. Politically speaking, Eastwood has always been conservative, even held office as a Republican official as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea in the 1980s. But to step up in such a hammy, unprofessional fashion for that cause? Again: Yikes.
And even if Eastwood’s relationships in the industry don’t take a hit, it’s hard not to imagine that he just put a giant asterisk on his resume that will now be most prominent when he passes, instead of the focus being on the great work he has done as a filmmaker. To think that he’s been of voting age since Eisenhower, and he only decided to put his credibility on the line now? For Mitt Romney?
But my real question is a bigger, more personal one: How does an artist who has shown such intelligence and humanism in the last two decades as a filmmaker step out and be so childishly disrespectful and blindingly crass in his criticisms of a sitting president on such a public stage? This is what perplexes, saddens and angers me about the post-Clinton political right: We can — and will, and should — debate policy all day long, but no one is compelled to do it disrespectfully, dishonestly, disgustingly. That’s a personal choice.
And any party that rallies its passion under the kind of unpatriotic condescension represented by Sarah Palin’s “How’s that whole hopey-changey thing working for you?” isn’t deserving of our attention, let alone power. What Eastwood did was add fuel to a raging fire — of confusion, of desperation, of bitterness, of, yes, racism — that too many other civilized citizens already find impossible to put out. Eastwood took very public sides in an ugly fight. And he didn’t have to. It’s hard to reconcile that with the understanding and compassion he often brings to people with his movies.
As a director, Eastwood is famous with actors and other collaborators for doing the fewest number of takes possible — don’t waste a bunch of time and resources if you can get it right the first time. But this is one instance where a second take — or a full rewrite — could have saved a career.