As soon as I heard the voice come from the screen I was mesmerized. That deep voice, thoughtful in its pauses, as if every word is well considered before delivery. One of the sexiest, and most easily recognized voices in the world. Not Clint Eastwood, although his low-pitched growl is still as recognizable as ever. Morgan Freeman. A voice that most of us would recognize immediately if he were speaking three aisles away in a crowded grocery store.
If the original Eastwood Factor was an intimate look at Clint Eastwood through the eyes of his friend and fellow filmmaker Richard Schickel, then the extended version, for all that remains the same, is a new and entirely different film. Morgan Freeman's deeply intellectual and slightly philosophical narration is driving the Eastwood Factor train this time. Freeman, a Hollywood icon in his own right, has worked closely with Eastwood on some of his most important films. Every project these two men have undertaken together has turned into Oscar gold.
In the extended Eastwood Factor Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood talk about the movie Invictus, the 29th film that Eastwood has directed. Freeman says, in the omniscient voice of narrator, "I developed the project and brought it to Clint." The scene goes to Eastwood, sitting in his chair at home. "He just calls me up one day and says 'I have a really good script I'd love you to direct.' Whenever somebody calls you up and says 'I have a really good script' you always go, 'Okay… We'll be the judge of that.' I read it… I called him back and said, 'It is a really good script. And yes. I'll do it.' This element of his history [Nelson Mandela] I don't think people are that familiar with."
The combination of Eastwood and Freeman as storyteller is powerful. With Richard Schickel's insightful writing and unique documentary style they dig deeply into the heart of some of Eastwood's most complex movie characters like Dirty Harry and Josey Wales. They also cover films not included in the original Eastwood Factor: Invictus (2009), Gran Torino (2008), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), along with an in-depth exploration into the 2006 film Letters from Iwo Jima.
Based on the true story of Japanese General Kuribayashi, Letters from Iwo Jima was filmed during an editing break for Flags of Our Fathers. "The more preparation I did for that picture [Flags], the more I started thinking 'I wonder what it was like for the other side,' especially after having traveled to Iwo Jima, and crawled through the tunnels of Iwo Jima where the enemy was holed up." It was Kuribayashi who built the tunnels that inspired Eastwood to tell the enemy's side of the story. "He knew they were just holding out. He knew there was going to be no possibility that they would ever leave that island." But there was one problem in telling this story. "Actually, we don't know how Kuribayashi died… they never did find him." Eastwood had to figure out his own ending, then work backwards editing in references to the pearl-handled Colt 45.
Between these two powerhouse actors the stories unfold, not only the stories behind the characters that Eastwood has portrayed and the movies he has directed, but the stories that have made him the director, and the man, that he is today.
On a personal level, Clint Eastwood discusses for the first time his life in Carmel, including Mission Ranch, the hotel/restaurant he owns and the Tehama Golf Course, which he built. This is where Eastwood has made his life, the community he calls home; a place where he doesn't feel encumbered by his celebrity. He also talks about his father, what he learned from him; that a man can be gentle and respectful and still be strong.
This type of temperament, a certain dignity, has long been a part of the Eastwood 'factor' as far as I can remember, that inner strength and assuredness is reflected in the characters that he portrays, as well as in the way he directs. It seems to be a part of his spirit, this confidence he seems to have in himself and in those around him. He is truly a man at peace with himself and with the decisions he makes.
When I interviewed Richard Schickel in February, just after my review of the shorter The Eastwood Factor documentary, filmed specifically for inclusion in the Clint Eastwood: 35 Years 35 Films With Warner Bros box set, he touched upon this attribute in Eastwood also. "He's not a man who I've ever seen acting as if he's under strain, do you know what I mean? I mean, he has evolved a way of making movies that is just a nice, steady pace. Unfrenzied. Unfrantic."
I was reminded of those words whilst I watched the extended film, that easygoing attitude and absolute confidence, the humor, that has prompted actors like Angelina Jolie (who Eastwood directed in 2008's Changeling) to say that Eastwood brings out the best in them. And I could not help but think, as I watched Eastwood and Freeman deconstructing the characters in his movies, how true this seems to be of both of these men. Freeman and Eastwood both seem to be born of this caste, they both seem to have an understanding of their craft that goes beyond just being good at what they do, there is a sense that they understand the nature of people, a trait which cannot be learned, a wisdom that no age imparts. It is simply some 'thing' which lives inside them. A certain patience and peace that would prevent even the most neurotic actor from sabotaging a production.
It's little wonder that Richard Schickel and Clint Eastwood have had a deep and lasting friendship for so many years. Where on the surface Schickel, with his colorful humor and outgoing personality, would appear to be the antithesis of Eastwood, there is actually a very strong symmetry in the way these two men think in terms of acting and filmmaking. Their philosophies, perspectives, ethics, and appreciation for the art of filmmaking seem to be a simulacrum, one for the other.
The most compelling thing about The Eastwood Factor, the thing that makes you want to watch it again and again, is what I'd call "The Schickel Factor." When Richard Schickel sets out to tell the story of a Hollywood legend, whether it's on film, like his award-nominated documentaries Minnelli on Minnelli (1987) and Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey (1994) or in written form, like the highly acclaimed The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian (2006), you can rest assured that no matter how many films you've seen on that person, no matter how familiar you may be with their history, Schickel is going to deliver something unexpected. You'll get a vivid, dynamic glimpse into their world; you'll see them as you never have before, you'll never see them the same way again.
With the extended cut of The Eastwood Factor Richard Schickel has proven once again his genius as historian, storyteller, and documentary filmmaker. This is a film that promises to hold its position as the most enlightened and relevant introspective on Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood for years to come. It is a must-have for fans and should be requisite in the library of any young actor or director.