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Story of hero pilot just the latest stage in journey of icon Eastwood

Clint directs Tom Hanks in movie based on Flight 1549

By Paul Whittington

Photos have recently emerged showing Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood chatting on location in New York. Remarkably, this is the first time the two men have ever worked together and Hanks seems the perfect choice to play Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, the American airline pilot who became a national hero in January 2009.

Sully recreates the dramatic path of US Airways Flight 1549, which had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport when it hit a flock of Canada geese, knocking out both engines.

With no power to get him back to a runway, Sullenberger decided to attempt an extremely risky emergency landing in the Hudson River: air traffic controllers reported seeing the Airbus 323 gliding less than 270 metres above the George Washington Bridge before Sully successfully landed it in the choppy waters of the Hudson.

All 155 passengers and crew were saved and Sullenberger became an instant folk hero. Sully will be released here later this year.

The appeal of this story for Eastwood is obvious: he's always been attracted to tales of laconic and iconoclastic American males who won't be diverted from their chosen course of action.

His view of his country's ideals and history can seem anachronistic and his Republican - and sometimes libertarian - politics make him stand out like a sore thumb in liberal Hollywood.

This week, the four-time Oscar winner courted controversy when he denounced the current generation of Americans as weak and overly sensitive, while backing Donald Trump - even though the Republican presidential hopeful has "said a lot of dumb things".

"He (Trump) is on to something, because, secretly, everybody's getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That's the kiss-ass generation we're in right now. We're really in a pussy generation. Everybody's walking on eggshells," he says.

"We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren't called racist."

But Eastwood couldn't care less about the all-too-predictable reaction, because he's always been a hard man to pigeonhole. A handsome beanpole of an actor, who started out in cheesy TV shows like Rawhide, he seemed stiff and awkward until Sergio Leone cast him in his spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars, allowing Eastwood to reveal a darker and more sinister edge.

He was then dubbed the next John Wayne before becoming one of the biggest action stars of the 1970s and '80s. But a conventional career as a Hollywood actor would never have been enough for Clint.

When he first ventured behind the camera in 1970, on the thriller Play Misty for Me, Clint was determined not to follow the bad examples of most of the directors he'd worked with. Play Misty for Me was a very accomplished feature debut.

Industry insiders weren't expecting much from a taciturn western actor, but Eastwood paced his nervy psychological thriller perfectly. Critics compared his style to Hitchcock's and the film's success helped Eastwood establish himself as a jobbing Hollywood director.

Starring roles in popular action vehicles, like Tightrope, Escape from Alcatraz and Any Which Way You Can, distracted him from directing for a time, however, and the films he did choose to make himself, like Firefox and Heartbreak Ridge, were often formulaic and unedifying.

But the 1985 western Pale Rider, which in ways felt like a remake of High Plains Drifter, marked a welcome return to form, and in 1988 Eastwood took his career in a new direction with Bird.

He'd long been a lover of jazz, and brought depth and sensitivity to his biopic of Charlie Parker, the legendary saxophonist memorably played by a young Forest Whitaker. Thereafter he would move fluently between action films and weightier dramas.

In 1992, he returned to the western one last time to make a film that matched the achievements of his hero, John Ford. Unforgiven, which won Best Film and Best Director Oscars in 1993, thoroughly debunked the notion of gunslingers as glamorous heroes.

Eastwood starred as William Munny, a former outlaw who's given up alcohol and forsworn violence until he's tempted out of retirement by an intriguing offer.

A pair of drunken cowboys have disfigured a prostitute in the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming, and her colleagues are offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who'll kill the guilty parties. And so Will and his old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) head north into a dangerous and volatile situation.

Through the 1990s, Eastwood had solid hits, like A Perfect World and Bridges of Madison County, but in the early 2000s, as he entered his 70s, he embarked on an extraordinary purple patch.

First came Mystic River (2003), a powerful tale of long buried abuse based on a novel by Denis Lehane, then in 2004 Eastwood released Million Dollar Baby, a boxing picture with a big difference.

That difference was Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a young female boxer with a raw talent who's taken under the wing of grizzled trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood).

It was a sports picture, a melodrama and a tragedy all rolled into one: Swank won the Best Actress Oscar, and Clint won Best Picture and Best Director awards.

He followed it with perhaps his most ambitious project of all, a two-movie analysis of the Battle of Iwo Jima told from opposite sides. Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima gave us very different perspectives on that crucial Pacific battle, and opted for a much less jingoistic tone than one might have expected.

Clint's films over the last decade or so have been a mixed bag, often ambitious (Invictus, J Edgar) but not always artistically successful (Changeling, Hereafter). His most recent, American Sniper, made almost $550m and is his highest-grossing film to date.

But my favourite of his recent films is Gran Torino, a lean, mean urban drama filmed on a tight budget in the summer of 2008. Eastwood starred as Walt Kowalski, a grumpy, trigger-happy racist who becomes attached to an embattled south-east Asian family that moves in next door.

It was funny, tough and touching - and somehow seemed like quintessential Clint.

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