The 10 Best Performances in The Movies of Clint Eastwood

5. Angelina Jolie for Changeling


Jolie has gone on record as saying making “Changeling” was one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of her life calling director Eastwood “ridiculously great” and saying she definitely wants another experience under his direction soon.

Based on the emotionally compelling nature of this film’s final version, let’s hope that comes to pass.

This true story follows Christine Collins (Jolie) and her turbulent journey in 1920s Los Angeles after she loses her son and finds him again only to discover he is not really her son.

The investigation that follows shows Collins to be untrustworthy and unbelievable in the eyes of the police department who is looking for a news story making them look good and Collins is incarcerated.

Only through thorough investigative work is the truth finally revealed.

Jolie’s emotional performance was mesmerizing and she fully transformed herself into Collins which has become more difficult considering her huge fame as a megastar. Obviously, losing a child would be emotional t any parent; however, she turns her grief into anger when she decides to stand up for the hoax that is perpetrated on her and decides to fight for the truth no matter the personal cost.

Through her performance, you really believe what she is saying and doing through her visceral delivery. Jolie has the ability to lose herself in her role so you no longer recognize her.

She was nominated for her performance, but lost to Kate Winslet for “The Reader”.


4. Morgan Freeman for Invictus

Invictus (2009)

The life of Nelson Mandela would have enough material for many films indeed as few human beings have been involved in as many world events or lead such a complex, layered inspirational life as he has.

Freeman himself had been developing a Mandela story for years hoping to eventually make it into a film. Mandela had already gone on record saying he felt Freeman was the only person he wanted to play him in a film version of his life.

Freeman met with Mandela several times and had watched lots of historical footage of the leader to ensure his performance would capture every detail of the South African leader. Freeman even went as far as to switch his dominant hand from left-handed to right-handed.

This particular Mandela story focuses on right after he is elected President of South Africa and his interest in the South African Rugby Team as a means to rally the country to get past its racially divisive past and form solidarity to move forward.

First, he has to convince the governing committee not to disband the team and get rid of the team name and colors completely. He then forms a relationship with the team captain (Matt Damon) to further underscore the need for perseverance by the team during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

The film was criticized for being too predictable; however, it holds its own as a great sports story and as Mandela as a transformative leader.

Freeman’s brilliance has never shined brighter. “Invictus” is reminiscent of other Freeman films like “Lean on Me” and “Glory” in that he is able to give speeches and orders to people in such a thoughtful, but forceful way you can’t help but obey but still respect him for it. He plays figures of authority so well as he always have to enjoy his staunch and forceful delivery.

His Mandela is cheerful, thoughtful, reverent and personable, but still a great leader.


3. Bradley Cooper for American Sniper

American Sniper

This will most likely end up being the highest grossing Clint Eastwood directed film ever making over $350 million in the United States alone on a budget of under $60 million.

It probably also came within an eyelash of winning Best Picture in 2014 losing to “Birdman”.

Bradley Cooper plays true life American hero Chris Kyle, a Navy S.E.A.L. and the deadliest sniper in U.S. history and tells his story through his tours of duty in Iraq, his marriage and relationships with his wife and kids, and his struggles both during combat and after returning home.

Cooper really bulked up physically to give audiences a realistic version of Kyle. He is superb in showing us this remarkable person and how even heroes have challenges in their lives and how they deal with them. His portrayal shows his vulnerability of emotion when he returns from war juxtaposed against his confidence, pride and patriotism while performing his duty.

His cockiness is still here from some of his other roles, but portrayed in a more thoughtful way.

He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

There has been a campaign launched for Chris Kyle to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor due to his extraordinary service, four tours in the Middle East and his 160 confirmed combat kills.

In 2015, Texas governor Greg Abbott proclaimed February 2nd “Chris Kyle Day” in honor of his service.


2. Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby


Where has Hilary Swank gone? She has won two Academy Awards for Best Actress including one for this film and now hasn’t been seen much the last 10 years.

Maybe it was her misstep with the biopic “Amelia” which turned her off to Hollywood. She should be given another chance for leading lady glory.

Her performance alongside Eastwood and Morgan Freeman as up-in-coming boxer Maggie Fitzgerald is poignant in many ways even before the right turn in the story which leads you in a completely different direction.

Her verve and enthusiasm in approach to every role she plays is refreshing especially considering her humble beginnings as an actress including having to live in her car before her big break.

The thing Swank does well in her performance here is the ranges of emotion. Her intensity in the ring vs. her ability to just listen and remain constant onscreen when other actors are speaking. Her reactions, or lack thereof, are some of her finest traits and are exhibited fully in her portrayal of Maggie.

She also underwent a serious training program for this film and gained 20 pounds of muscle as a result.

Swank really excelled in the role and won herself her 2nd Academy Award for it in 2004.


1. Gene Hackman for Unforgiven

Little Bill Daggett – Unforgiven (1992)

Eastwood had purchased the screen rights to “Unforgiven” over a decade before actually making the film saying he just threw it in a drawer and knew he would make it someday.

That day came in 1992.

Eastwood assembled an all-star cast which included Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris and Gene Hackman as “Little Bill” Daggett.

This was a role Hackman was born to play and used Hackman’s best emotion on-screen, that smirky smile quickly followed up by an intense flood of anger. When these scenes play out on screen, you are never quite sure if Hackman is going to hug you or punch you in the face. His intensity in unmatched.

The character of Little Bill seems torn with wanting to uphold the law in his town and just wanting to be left alone building his new house in peace.

The scenes of Little Bill in the jail after he has beaten “English Bob” and is reading excerpts of Bob’s “autobiography” are my personal favorite. Instead of “The Duke of Death” he calls him “The Duck of Death” and debunks all the extraordinarily embellished elements of the book.

Bill has to be publically brutal to Bob to make it clear he will not tolerate any hoodlums entering the town of Big Whiskey in response to the reward put up by the “ladies of the evening”.

Hackman’s performance is unforgettable and earned him his first for Best Supporting Actor after winning Best Actor in 1971 for “The French Connection.”

Honorable Mentions:

Geoffrey Lewis for Bronco Billy
Kyle Eastwood for Honkytonk Man
Meryl Streep for The Bridges of Madison County
Kevin Spacey for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Tommy Lee Jones for Space Cowboys

Author Bio: Andy Kubica is a life-long cinephile. Having spend time as a video store manager, movie theater manager and the first DVD buyer for a former rental chain he now spends every waking moment reducing his film “bucket list”.