Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the Broadway hit, Jersey Boys, drops in theaters tomorrow, and as it stars four relative film unknowns, I thought it’d be fun to highlight performances from his films that never earned enough acclaim. Jersey Boys is Eastwood’s 33rd film as a director, so I will undoubtedly leave many worthy performances off this list. Do feel free to share your favorites.
Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter – Play Misty for Me (1971)
as Dave Garver and Evelyn Draper
Dave Garver is Clint Eastwood doing something he hardly ever does: playing a guy. Not a cowboy, not a crime fighter, not a government agent, just an everyday normal guy. One who is thrown into a circle of madness when his new girlfriend, Evelyn, begins terrorizing him. Play Misty for Me was the first film Eastwood directed, and it deserves to be seen for a number of reasons; Eastwood’s nuance, and Walter’s unhinged mania chief among them.
10. Margo Martindale – Million Dollar Baby (2004)
as Earline Fitzgerald
Martindale’s performance as Hilary Swank’s repugnant mother in Million Dollar Baby might actually be my favorite performance on this list. The only reason I’m ranking it at number 10 is because, thankfully, her work in the film has received a fair amount of acclaim, including on this blog. Eastwood’s films are full of characters that are beyond redemption, and Earline Fitzgerald is surely one of the best among them.
9. Kevin Chapman – Mystic River (2003)
as Val Savage
I would’ve bet good money that Kevin Chapman was a blue collar Boston stiff who was cast in Mystic River as an unknown. But I would’ve been wrong. Savage had a career years before Mystic River, and has had I thriving one since. But in this film, he feels so damn authentic, as if he were a reformed con given a chance to act in a movie. That’s the mark of a great character actor.
8. Anna Levine – Unforgiven (1992)
as Delilah Fitzgerald
Who can forget the disfigured, tortured face of Delilah Fitzgerald? One of my favorite moments in Unforgiven is a tender conversation shared between Delilah and Will Munny (Eastwood), the man being paid to kill the scoundrels who cut Delilah up. Early in their talk, Will insults Delilah, which she accepts with heartbreaking defeat. He later apologizes, but she knows she’s broken, never to be put back together again.
7. Chief Dan George – The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
as Lone Watie
Roger Ebert thought Chief Dan George deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and watching the film, it’s easy to see why. George has a unique dignity and a subtle humor that allows him to own all of his scenes. Really, he’s as essential to the film as Eastwood himself.
6. William Holden – Breezy (1973)
as Frank Harmon
Frank Harmon’s divorced and isolated life is given a sudden resurgence when a younger woman named Breezy (Kay Lenz, also quite good) falls into his life. Much of the fun of this film is watching William Holden embrace his old age while, at the same time, do everything he can to stay young. It’s not nearly as accomplished as his role in Network (hell, are any of his other roles?), but it is very pleasing work all the same.
5. Kazunari Ninomiya – Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
as Private First Class Saigo
As an unassuming Japanese baker, Saigo is mortified when he is drafted into World War II. His worries are enhanced when he realizes it is considered honorable for Japanese soldiers to die for their country, a notion Saigo does not believe in. His moral dilemma, set against the backdrop of the unforgiving caves of Iwo Jima, makes for many of the films best moments.
4. Brían F. O’Byrne – Million Dollar Baby (2004)
as Father Horvak
A great running gag in Million Dollar Baby is the combative rapport Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) has with his priest, Father Horvak. Their brief exchanges give the film some much needed levity, which makes their final, dead serious conversation that much more impactful.
3. Bryce Dallas Howard – Hereafter (2010)
As a would-be love interest to Matt Damon’s character, Howard is given a big emotional scene in Hereafter that is utterly devastating. I was floored by the strength of Howard’s work, and so impressed that she played most of the scene with her face hidden behind her long, red hair. It’s the kind of moment that can make an entire movie worth it.
2. Adam Beach – Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
as Ira Hayes
Adam Beach’s performance as Ira Hayes is one of the best portrayals of post-traumatic stress disorder that I’ve ever seen on film. Plagued by images of hell he saw in the war, Hayes lives the rest of his days fogged by drink and guilt. He’s such a gentle, tortured soul, one that Beach plays with haunting command. Certainly, an Oscar nomination should’ve followed this exceptional work.
1. Jason Butler Harner – Changeling (2008)
as Gordon Northcott
Changeling is a film that moves at its own, purposefully slow pace. Despite a few disturbing set pieces (mainly set inside a psychiatric ward), the film is a patient domestic drama. But then we meet Gordon Northcott, an ice cold psychopath who may have killed upwards of 20 children. The quick evolution of Northcott’s moral decay makes for Changeling’s most brutal moments. In fact, Harner’s final scene in this film is one of the most disturbing things Eastwood has ever directed. Jason Butler Harner deserves to have an illustrious career, but I’ll be amazed if he manages to go deeper than the sunken eyes of Gordon Northcott.
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