Major Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood) has withdrawn from the world ever since a traumatic experience when he was fighting the Vietnam War which saw him accidentally kill an innocent victim. He was a pilot, and regarded as one of the best in his field until the tragedy, so now he lives in Alaska in a cabin in the woods - but the United States military want him back. The reason for that is the Soviets, who have devised a new spyplane which could tip the balance of the Cold War in their favour, as the vehicle is not only the fastest of its kind ever developed, but can evade radar and be controlled with the pilot's thoughts...
Generally considered one of Eastwood's lesser efforts, Firefox (the codename of the spyplane) saw him doing what many a Hollywood action star did during the last days of the Cold War, and that was appear in a patriotic flagwaver for the U.S.A. Not too many of these were seen as enduring classics for the ages, but for nostalgists it can be amusing to watch what can be idealised as an almost quaint time when the heroes and villains were so certain, and the main conflict was played out in the popular media rather than setting off all those nuclear bombs we were so worried about at the time. Yet Eastwood apparently couldn't quite make up his mind about where to go here.
Did he go in the direction that would have suited the previous decade, that was the espionage thriller with Gant behind enemy lines in Russia, or aim for the gung ho action epic, with bullets and missiles flying as Gant straps himself into the spyplane and lets rip? How about do them both, which led to a movie with a seriously uneven tone, as it began with some furtive secret agent business then allowed John Dykstra and his team free rein to create the special effects depicting the aircraft zooming about the skies for the second half. If the idea was to appeal to both sides of the audience who would appreciate either one or the other, then generally the reaction was that they would find either the beginning or ending disappointing.
It's true that the opening half does interesting things with Clint's image, as was his wont when he got the chance to play around with his macho icon placing in the entertainment firmament, for Gant is among his most vulnerable characters, what with the regular, and by now somewhat risible, 'Nam flashbacks which may be intended to have us unsure whether Gant really was the right man for the job, even if he is an excellent pilot who can speak Russian (in an American accent). Eastwood adopted a haunted look for these sequences as he skulks around Moscow and changes identity to keep ahead of the Soviet authorities, then added a spot of social conscience as those helping him are the persecuted Russian Jewish community and their allies.
All very well, but more gloomy and dejected than actively exciting, and presumably not the type of the movie Clint's fans thought they wanted to see back in '82. Add in a bunch of British thespians to play the Easterners, all of whom evidently went to the Walter Koenig school of accents, and you had the undeniably amusing sight of the likes of Warren Clarke and Nigel Hawthorne acting alongside Eastwood, but even so it was the flying business most would be impatiently awaiting. Firefox delivered with some excellent footage taken in the skies, but dramatically it amounted to our hero finding his inner soldier and blasting enemy military hardware with his missiles, which considering all we got to see of Clint from then on were fleeting closeups of his helmeted face was not exactly satisfying given how far they had gone in setting up all that character stuff only to dismiss it as Gant makes with the wisecracks and coldblooded killing. You can see what they were trying, but also why they didn't quite succeed. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys, American Sniper and The Mule to his name.