‘Jersey Boys’ Review: Clint Eastwood at his absolute best

If it wasn’t such an astonishing film with some truly remarkable points to make—I would likely have just enjoyed Jersey Boys as a pleasant movie. It’s not the normal kind of film that I would go to the theater to see. I’m not really crazy about pop music, and I could care less about another mobster movie—which Jersey Boys is at its heart. But this was different—I have been a Clint Eastwood fan all of my life and continue to admire his work late in life when most people would have cashed in and checked out a long time ago. I remember well when George Burns was still living well in his 80s which defied logic—but even he looked like a burnt up old man. Eastwood still has his swagger—and his mind at 84 without any sign of slowing down. I knew during the filming of Jersey Boys Clint’s wife wanted to run off with an old friend—a much younger man, then when Eastwood was ready to give her a divorce, she decided she didn’t want it. I also knew that Eastwood’s oldest son Kyle was in the film as a musical coordinator, and that one of his newest daughters Francesca was supposed to be in the cast.  I also knew that he was in pre-production for American Sniper—and there was a lot of other subplots not even related to the difficult production of Jersey Boys which is very well documented. Heck, the main character Frankie Valli is still alive and performing, and would see everything that Eastwood put on film—which can be intimidating to get right. There were at least 1000 reasons Jersey Boys should have been a bad movie and there would be every excuse available for it—so I went to see the film to support Clint Eastwood and his tireless efforts as a brilliant film director. What I saw wasn’t just good, or even great—it was magnificent.

Jersey Boys is a movie filled with very subtle scenes of radiance.  The strength of Clint Eastwood not only as an actor, but a director is in his ability to put many emotions in a scene from moment to moment. This was never clearer than when Frankie Valli rescued his daughter who was a run-away from a vile scum bag with a mobster hit man. The moment brought laughs from the audience and was reminiscent of one of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films but within a moment in the same scene was a level of drama seen in Mystic River. Valli had rescued his daughter then tried to tell her he was going to save her by making her dreams come true—helping her develop a singing career. As Valli spoke the words, it was clear he was making a mistake—the girl only wanted her father’s attention and her rebelliousness was clearly a response to an emptiness left in her life by a father who was always on the road. The scene was like Eastwood himself, a person who works at many levels all at the same time. The actor clearly had to know how Eastwood wanted to shoot the scene, yet the real Frankie Valli is one of the producers of the film and the decisions he had made eventually would lead to the death of that daughter and had to be painful for him. Eastwood handled all these elements like a symphony—effortlessly. Most directors would have wanted to show off how brilliant they were in such a scene—but Eastwood doesn’t even feel he needs to put a light on it. It just is—and he moves on to the next scene which is just as brilliant for the rest of the movie. It is amazing not only on how Eastwood handles things in front of the camera, but the elements behind the camera which affect what’s in front like an untouched maestro that only extreme maturity and philosophic understanding could provide. I had the feeling that the scene would cause the real Frankie Valli a lot of pain, but Eastwood didn’t care. I thought of his character from High Plains Drifter from many years prior—“people are only scared of what they know about themselves inside.” Eastwood had seen through the emotion written on the page of a screenplay to the heart of the problem and he did not hesitate to cast his opinion through film—which was gut wrenching. Moments later, Eastwood had the audience laughing again and enjoying music. It was quite phenomenal to see.

An example of such brilliance was the way the main characters provided narration throughout the film looking directly into the camera like it was a live stage play. Typically, it is a big error for an actor to look directly into the camera and speak to an audience—yet Eastwood pulls it off without being distracting. I can’t ever recall seeing such a narrative that does not interrupt the flow of the film and it wasn’t just one character—but several. It is a difficult concept to conceive, and even harder to pull off—yet Clint Eastwood effortlessly pulled it off knowing very well that he was shooting a period piece that most of the audience was alive to confirm—and playing music that many in the audience knew by heart. For any other film director—the task would be daunting—but for 84-year-old Clint Eastwood who is a master of his craft and at the top of his game—it was just the result of a life fully lived by a man who had seen and done everything and lived to tell the stories.

Jersey Boys could have been a PG film—there was no sex in it, or nudity. It was done very stylishly—except that the F-bomb was used extensively. But it was never distracting—it felt natural—like part of the culture we were witnessing. Warner Brothers would have reigned in any director except Clint Eastwood. They would have cut the language to get the PG rating for ticket sales, but because of whom the director was—they left Jersey Boys alone which tremendously elevated the authenticity of the subject matter.

Jersey Boys is a musical, but it didn’t go out of its way to be elaborately flowery in that category—the way Chicago, or even Walk The Line did—it again was an effortless exchange between a master filmmaker who happens to be old and uniquely able to convey wisdom that only elderly people can achieve—without being stuffy. Jersey Boys is really amazingly efficient in its delivery of complicated subject matter, well-known songs, and the telling of a story backed by actual history. In one scene the music is interrupted while one of the band members turns to the camera and speaks directly to the audience. It was a strangely satisfying way to tell the story that might only make sense on a printed page as a dream sequence. Most filmmakers would struggle to tell the crew in a meeting what their vision for such a scene would be—yet again Eastwood pulls it off as if everyone does it in every film ever made.

I found myself identifying with the young Frankie Valli and his unique relationship to a mob boss in Christopher Walken. I had a similar background—and understand how complex those types of relationships can be—how the morality between right and wrong can easily be colored gray. Eastwood in telling this kind of story never loses sight of right and wrong while at the same time covering every shade of gray that there is with humor, horror, pity, and honor. There hasn’t been a mob film done this well since The Godfather or Goodfellas. Christopher Walken played his part with all the confidence one would expect—and entered the storyline reminiscent of Pulp Fiction. Again there is typically a tendency to overplay the Walken type of mob boss in films because his performance was so incredibly strong. Yet Eastwood backs off the thrusters just enough to hit the right speed with the entire mob portion of the story seemingly taking a back seat to the music—which of course it was actually the support structure without naming it.

Yet my favorite character in the story was Bob Gaudio who at the end of the film proudly proclaimed to the camera—that without him, none of the events of the story would have happened—and he’s right. Gaudio wrote the songs that made Frankie Valli famous and carried the Four Seasons to heights they wouldn’t otherwise achieve. It wasn’t a teamwork exercise—it was because of Bob Gaudio that the Four Seasons produced so many hits. Frankie Valli had the unique voice, and everyone in the band did the hard work on the road—but it was because of Gaudio that there was anything to sing. I think only Clint Eastwood could have had a character deliver a line like that without sounding pretentious. It was a uniquely Clint Eastwood line delivered authentically.




If you go back to Eastwood films like Play Misty for Me the fabulous cinematography seen in Jersey Boys is not there. But the substance of subject matter was. Eastwood films are always intelligent, even in his comedies like Every Which Way But Loose. But Eastwood never let technical limits stop him from making a film. He doesn’t seem to worry about making something that will be criticized by someone who might think they can do it better. He just makes things—and really doesn’t seem to care how it’s judged. In this fashion he has made a lot of movies over a very long career. But starting with the movies he has made since his late 60s, the subject matter and quality of the films has become much better culminating in Jersey Boys. If this isn’t the Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards—I don’t know what would be. It is filmmaking at its best by a director who is the best. It was a pleasure to watch, and a real treasure to come from Clint Eastwood who once again has not disappointed me at the movie theater. I got more out of Jersey Boys than I thought I would—and that is always a good thing. And for me to feel that way about a film—it has to have some unique texture that speaks at many levels—and Jersey Boys does—just like the guy who made it.

I first ran into the music of Frankie Valli when I saw Grease as a kid, the movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Even back then, Valli was already considered an elderly music legend. At that same time, Clint Eastwood was an aging actor playing parts in films that were nearing retirement. It is then ironic that these two entertainment professionals are still around and kicking in 2014 and that they united to make the film Jersey Boys. For me the most haunting portion of the film was the first time the daughter who would die later  in the story sat at the top of the steps of their home angry at her daddy, Frankie Valli for not being home more. For both Eastwood and Valli this had to be a hard scene to film, because their entertainment lives had taken a toll on their personal lives. For Eastwood it was happening again and again, and during the filming of Jersey Boys his wife wanted to run off with a another man. But who could blame her Eastwood hadn’t been a saint. Eastwood has had so many girlfriends and children by them over his long life that he had to have many similar discussions with them as shown in Jersey Boys. The pain is that Valli did not listen to his daughter even though it was obvious that he loved her. There has been several times where I have had the same talk with my daughters and I chose to stay home—and to this day my kids appreciate it. I never had to deal with the kind of things Valli or Eastwood did—but these are the kinds of decisions that must be made by people who want to play the entertainment game at that level. Eastwood handled the scene with haunting coolness given the fact that several of his own children were on the set of Jersey Boys and undoubtedly the real Frankie Valli had to watch the dailies and it had to hurt him. There was real pain in those scenes—and they were handled with care without being too mushy.

If you dear reader were thinking of seeing Jersey Boys, you should take a moment over the upcoming weekend to see it at the theater. The end of the film transposes into a large musical number that is reminiscent of the stage play. It was just another example of the expert care Eastwood’s direction of the film exhibited. It was stylish without being campy—and unusually potent for a bookend to the entire film. Jersey Boys is one of those unique films, and it is a treat for everyone who sees it. It embodied all the elements of living life the way only an 84-year-old man who has always pushed the limit can tall it—making it a real American treasure that will never be forgotten. It is quite simply an amazing film.

Rich Hoffman   www.OVERMANWARRIOR.com


2 thoughts on “‘Jersey Boys’ Review: Clint Eastwood at his absolute best

  1. Saw it opening night! What a great movie. We saw the play last year and it is amazing.

    I was uneasy going to the movie, because movie translations of plays don’t usually work out so hot….but as you said, Eastwood threaded a needle that probably no one else alive today could do.


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