Box-sets, much like anthologies, have somewhat of an unavoidable mixed-bag mentality about them. It’s difficult, near impossible even, to ensure that each film within is of equal merit and quality. Increase the number of films, and the odds of consistency decrease in equal proportion.
Which brings us to WB’s latest (but doubtfully last) Clint Eastwood retrospective.
Clint Eastwood: 20-Film Collection lives up to my theory above thanks in part to a heavy concentration on Eastwood’s most recent output (which few people would argue in favor of), but it does an otherwise fine job of looking across the years at the man’s output both as an actor and a director. WB has also released a 40-Film set onto DVD.
Surveying the twenty films featured here brings an immediate realization. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to these particular selections. The set doesn’t focus on Eastwood’s director efforts. It only includes three of the five Dirty Harry films. It features only three of Eastwood’s Westerns and none of his Man With No Name trilogy. It mixes critical and commercial hits with critical duds and box-office bombs.
It’s as mixed-bag as it could be without actually coming packaged in a paper bag.
The twenty films are: Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Gauntlet, Every Which Way But Loose, Firefox, Sudden Impact, Pale Rider, Heartbreak Ridge, Unforgiven, A Perfect World, Space Cowboys, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima, Gran Torino, Invictus, Hereafter, J. Edgar, Trouble With the Curve
The movies span back across the past four decades and represent a fairly odd sampling of Eastwood’s career. The last four should probably be avoided all together as both Invictus and J. Edgar feel like bloated chores, and Hereafter just feels dull. The less said about Eastwood’s baseball scout/family drama the better.
Instead, skip the newer titles and start from the beginning of the set for the man’s true classics. All three Dirty Harry films offer up some solidly nihilistic fun as well as more than a few eminently quotable lines, and two of the three Westerns are masterful examples of the genre. Pale Rider is a good film on its own merits, but it
pales suffers beside the two that bracket it.
One of the unsung gems here is A Perfect World. Eastwood directs and co-stars alongside one of Kevin Costner’s great performances. The end is a bit too obvious and Laura Dern’s presence is highly unnecessary, but the film remains a powerfully affecting achievement for Costner and Eastwood. Mystic River meanwhile is a masterpiece of another kind in its examination of guilt, rage and the cycle of violence in modern-day Boston. It’s populated with incredibly gifted actors who bring their all to Dennis Lehane’s tragic tale. Letters From Iwo Jima feels odd here without its other half, Flags Of Our Fathers, but it’s the better film of the two so there’s that. Space Cowboys and Every Which Way But Loose are both lightweight escapism, Firefox is just dumb and Heartbreak Ridge always felt too dry for my taste.
The Gauntlet is little more than a goofy, trashy romp, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the damn thing. Not even Sandra Locke can ruin the ridiculous mayhem for me, and while I acknowledge the superiority of Richard Donner’s unofficial remake (16 Blocks) this one remains a favorite from my youth. Million Dollar Baby won all the awards, but I find it difficult to believe anyone would want to watch it more than once, and while I know lots of people love Gran Torino the film just feels like it plays out much too obvious.
The twenty films are extremely varied and lacking in a cohesive theme or designation resulting in a seemingly random sampling of Eastwood’s career, but it still manages to gather several absolutely fantastic movies into one place.
WB’s box-set comes in a clear sleeve and includes a book-type case for the twenty two discs (twenty movies on Blu-ray plus two documentary DVDs) as well as a hardbound sampler of the recent book release, Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work.The discs themselves are in waxed sleeves as opposed to pop-on spindles, and while many people take issue with that style reporting that it leads to disc damage I’ve never experienced a problem myself.
None of the movie discs offer anything new as they recycle both the transfer and the special features from earlier stand-alone releases. That means that some of them actually have no extras. Most of the films aren’t actually in need of new remasters anyway (although a cleaned up copy of The Gauntlet would be nice), but it’s always appreciated when a box-set resets the individual disc menus to a uniform look. Still, the main draw in a movie collection should always be the movies themselves, so the lack of a new menu is far from a deal breaker.
The two documentaries include an extended version of The Eastwood Factor which appeared in shorter form on a previous WB collection of Eastwood’s films and the all-new Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story. Both docs offer up a series of talking heads alongside clips from Eastwood’s filmography, and while there are some fun anecdotes to be found they’re mostly a series of compliments for the man and his work. It’s his work ethics that get the most attention as he’s shown again and again as a man who’s loyal to his cast and crew, gets his films in on time and under budget and knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the camera.
The Bottom Line
The wide disparity of quality on display across the films here makes it difficult to recommend the set as a Buy, but it really comes down to how many of the movies actually appeal to you. At under $100 even ten solid films may be enough to warrant a purchase provided you don’t already have them on individual Blu-ray. I count nine films here that I love, but your math may vary.
Buy Clint Eastwood: 20-Film Collection on Amazon