Toxic masculinity is the phrase of the moment, and to a lot of people, particularly women, it is personified on screen by Clint Eastwood. But anybody familiar with his work will know that the tough-guy image is only a minor part of the package, for his films see affection and sentiment going hand in glove with a sometimes bitter but always stoic determination to resist political correctness and faddish relativism. Eastwood believes in taking responsibility for one’s actions, in owning up to who you are. In this cracking movie he is Earl Stone, a shuffling old horticulturist who, after losing his home and business in a foreclosure, becomes a drug mule for a Mexican cartel. Earl accepts that he is dealing with bad hombres, but he justifies his activity by using the fabulous amounts of money he pockets to bankroll local businesses and pay for his granddaughter’s education. What his money can’t buy is a rapprochement with his wife and daughter (Dianne Wiest, Alison Eastwood), whom he has always neglected in favour of his work. Meanwhile, the cops (Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña) are closing in. Through Earl, Eastwood is defiantly old school. He can’t text and is astounded that a man would need to Google ‘how to change a flat tyre’ – he even refers to a coloured couple as ‘negroes’ and cannot understand why that’s not done any more. But the venerable director’s critical asides are delivered with a surprisingly light touch and I frequently found myself chuckling at his crusty sarcasm – on racial profiling; a Latino driver stresses that ‘statistically, these are the most dangerous five minutes of my life’ when he is pulled over by the police. As always, he maintains a tight narrative, spurning indulgence and making only sparing use of Arturo Sandical’s haunting theme. Earl’s road to redemption has him confronting the wrongs he has done to others without hiding behind excuses. At 89, Eastwood is in a reflective mood but no less committed to the virtues that make the man. Fantastic.
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