Twenty-first Century Cowboy: Deconstructing the Hero in Late Clint Eastwood Movies

Authors: Van Raalte, C.

Start date: 10 May 2018

Clint Eastwood established his star persona over the course of three decades as the brooding gunslinger hero of both Hollywood and ‘spaghetti’ westerns, and as an irreverent cop in the Dirty Harry police films. From 1990 onwards, however, when the star turned sixty, he seems to have been engaged in protracted exercise of deconstructing that persona. Unforgiven (1992), his last Western both as an actor and as a director, is often discussed in terms of the way in which it deconstructs the mythology of the West – and in particular the myth of the gunslinger hero. But this is not the only film in which ideas of masculinity, heroism and the American dream are challenged Eastwood’s work in recent years, both as a director and as an actor – particularly in those projects where he has combined the roles, has become increasingly nuanced and thoughtful, revisiting well-trodden paths with a different sensibility. Films such as Gran Torino (2008), Absolute Power (1997) and even the otherwise disappointing The Rookie (1990) utilise narratives and qualities of aging to provide a new perspective while continually referencing performances and perspectives of earlier work. . In this paper I will explore some of the ways in which Eastwood’s aging body and star persona in his later films challenge, deconstruct and even parody the thematic, stylistic and affective aspects of the earlier work.

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