The Consequences of Clint’s Callousness

Somewhere in Burbank, California, a Warner Bros. Pictures executive is wishing Clint Eastwood would have kept his mouth shut.

By mocking critics of bigoted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Eastwood has effectively dragged his upcoming film Sully–a dramatization of then-US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger’s heroism on the Hudson in January 2009–into the culture wars. How many people who were interested in seeing Sully on September 9 will now think twice because they don’t want to give their hard-earned money to a director who tells the targets of Trump’s tirades to “just f___ing get over it”?

One gets the sense that Eastwood–the “chairman” of the 2012 Republican National Convention–has allowed the success of 2014’s American Sniper to go to his head, and thinks the film’s dominance at the US box office a year and a half ago represents America’s rejection of the Obama-Clinton vision. He may be in for a rude awakening–and if Sully fails because moviegoers don’t want to endorse Eastwood’s Esquire-expressed extremism, the Oscar-winning filmmaker may be, shall we say, unforgiven by Warner executives who believed the Tom Hanks starrer would be a hit.

Speaking of Hanks, one wonders how he feels about Eastwood effectively bringing Sully into the culture wars, some two decades after Pat Buchanan brought Forrest Gump into the culture wars by declaring the film a conservative classic. I thought Buchanan was wrong from the beginning when he wrote that column in August 1994, and even though I haven’t watched Forrest Gump in years, I still don’t quite get how people can read right-wing politics into the film (although progressive film critic Ty Burr asserted in 2004 that Gump was a “reactionary” film that chose to “ignore, streamline, and steamroll the past, most perniciously in its portrayal of the 1960s counterculture and the people within it.”) Hanks told TIME magazine in 1994 that Gump “is nonpolitical and thus nonjudgmental”; I never quite understood the implication that Hanks, who filmed Philadelphia several months prior to filming Forrest Gump, wanted to make a film that would appeal to those who presumably loathed the courageous character he played in Philadelphia. I’ve always had the sense that Hanks resented the folks who viewed Gump through a right-wing lens, instead of as a nonpolitical film; when Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attacked Hanks for starring in the supposedly anti-Christian The Da Vinci Code in 2006, Hanks must have had a hearty laugh at the expense of a wingnut who apparently assumed, based on Gump, that he was bosom buddies with right-wing reactionaries in real life.

It’s interesting to note that the man Hanks plays in Sully became a household name at the same time another Eastwood film that had culture-war implications, Gran Torino, topped the US box-office charts. In the Esquire interview, Eastwood observes:

[W]hen I did Gran Torino, even my associate said, “This is a really good script, but it’s politically incorrect.” And I said, “Good. Let me read it tonight.” The next morning, I came in and I threw it on his desk and I said, “We’re starting this immediately.”

When the interview was published, headaches among Warner executives must have started immediately. Granted, those headaches may not be as big as the ones being experienced by the executives at Fox Searchlight Pictures, who are still trying to deal with the fallout from a nearly-two-decade-long controversy involving the director of the highly anticipated Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation. Still, studios would presumably prefer not to deal with unnecessary ugliness that might threaten box-office performance–and Eastwood’s embarrassing tirade about  Trump may have caused Sully  to nosedive even before it takes off.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.