Madonna was the halftime show at Super Bowl XLVI, but a car-company commercial that didn’t seem to sell cars was the headliner. Chrysler’s two-minute spot, “Halftime in America,” captured the zeitgeist in nanoseconds, with 4 million YouTube views in its first 36 hours online.
And no wonder. It’s an undeniably affecting and powerful ode to the resilience of the American spirit. Having Clint Eastwood as the sole voice in the commercial doesn’t hurt. And the director? None other than indie maverick-turned-hard-R comedy maestro David Gordon Green.
Let’s be frank: No one saw this coming. The director who made his name with the critical darlings “George Washington,” All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels” abandoned his indie roots years ago for “Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.”
While those studio films appear to be profitable, they’ve fallen well short of the blockbuster status and critical praise earned by Green’s mentor (and the films’ producer), Judd Apatow. So there’s a real irony (or for those of us who miss his earlier works, glee) in seeing “Halftime in America” — a piece that marks a nod back to the lyricism that defined the earlier work of the North Carolina School of the Arts graduate — attract Green his widest audience to date.
We reached out to Green for comment; he politely deferred to Chrysler, noting that he hoped the commercial spoke for itself. Nonetheless, critics have taken notice. The commercial got an A from TIME, who labeled it “the year’s most intense Super Bowl commercial, a two-minute tribute to the steadfastness of the nation.” TIME movie critic Richard Corliss also weighed in, singling out the efforts of Green and Portland-based poet Matthew Dickman, whose prose Eastwood recites in the clip.
Even Slate magazine’s David Haglund, who penned an open letter to Green’s frequent collaborator Danny McBride, subtly titled “Whatever Happened to David Gordon Green?,” is impressed, labeling “Halftime in America” as Green’s “best work in years.”
What we want to know: Does this herald the second coming for Green? As he told Indiewire in December, his next project, an adaptation of the romance novel “Q,” is a return to the naturalistic aesthetic he honed over his first few projects — a film he described as “not technical, but very intimate.”
“People will come up to me now, like 19-year-olds, talking about my early films,” Green told Indiewire. “And they know me because of my recent films. So they’ve used that to research another era of my career. Hopefully I’ll have the next era of my career beginning shortly. I always want to try new things.”
Watch “Halftime in America” below: