Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

[I am careful as always to avoid spoilers, but as this film has a highly charged final act, you're best off not reading anything about it in advance. Go out and see this very good film before someone spoils it for you.]

Clint Eastwood has gradually become the Ernest Hemingway of tough old directors, turning out pictures that have no spare dialogue, no spare moments, and no spare symbolism. The only style here is lean efficiency. That filmmaking method suits brainless Hollywood blockbusters, and if Eastwood were interested in them he could probably make a pretty damn good one. But being naked and being empty are two different things: There are strong moral themes running through Eastwood's films; he has asked the same question here in "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River" and other films. The commentators who knee-jerked into accusing this film of having a political agenda have missed the point because they have objectified one of the main characters, thinking that Eastwood is dealing with the character's condition instead of the character's request. (In other words, the condition exists only as a plot point to set up the request, which is the real level at which the film is thinking, and the level at which we should be responding to it.) If I understand Eastwood as a filmmaker, the what in his movies exists only so he can ponder the how, the question of how his characters keep arriving at the decision that they do. It's a question that obviously fascinates him, and by now it would probably bore us if he were not a storyteller of considerable talent and certainty.

The film has its weaknesses — they call it "classical," I call it "clichéd" — but it is not a difficult film to watch, that's for sure. Eastwood finds the anticipated (and very funny) punchlines in the banter between the headstrong athlete and the reluctant trainer, and he provides the usual satisfaction inherent to the arc of a sports movie. It is also evocatively photographed, frequently hiding portions of the characters' bodies in shadow as they speak, forcing us sometimes to consider the words independently of the speaker. It's a fulfilling, well-acted, self-confident film, exactly the sort of professionalism that has become the hallmark of Eastwood the director. Those who enjoy his films, and there are few who do not, should not miss his fine new one. I hope they are allowed to make up their own minds about it.

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