Music in the movies: Clint Eastwood

He’s one of Hollywood’s most recognisable stars, a respected director, and an accomplished musician, too. Glen salutes the finest scores of Clint Eastwood...

One of the most well respected actors and directors working today, Clint Eastwood has an enviable body of work to his credit. He is also quite vocal about his love of music, particularly jazz, which underpins much of directorial efforts, and country and western, which marked his debut album in 1959, Cowboy Favourites.

Whilst the album was far from a success, he has written a number of excellent pieces for films over the years including Honkytonk Man, City Heat, Heartbreak Ridge, A Perfect World, The Bridges Of Madison County, Qui, Absolute Power, True Crime, Space Cowboys, the piano compositions for In The Line Of Fire, and the excellent song that plays out during the credits of Gran Torino.

Having penned numerous songs to accompany projects over the years, as well as assisting his long time composer, Lennie Niehaus, in a number of his projects, Eastwood made the transition to solo composer to striking effect, scoring a number of his recent films, showcasing his talent, and marking him as one of the most complete filmmakers working in the business today.

Below are the scores that the great man has written and composed solo:

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Mystic River

Eastwood’s score for his Dennis Lehane adaptation Mystic River is very strong, indeed. It’s surprising that this was the first time he decided to try his hand at composing a full score solo, considering his lifelong love of music, but this is an assured, confident and very effective piece of work. What’s more surprising is that a score so emotional and affecting is so subtle in the film.

Eastwood brings out the most in each scene with an expert’s touch. This is a highly emotive piece of work with themes of loss and anguish being explored throughout with Eastwood employing his jazz obsession to underpin much of the piece, creatingan intense atmosphere. The score is performed by the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Festival Chorus under direction from Lennie Niehaus.

The score also features two inclusions from Eastwood’s son, Kyle, who provides the pieces for barroom scenes. They add a nice contrast to the rest of the score and show that a strong ear for music clearly runs in the family. Kyle is, of course, an accomplished and talented musician in his own right, who has released a number of albums and has assisted on many of his father’s soundtracks.

Million Dollar Baby

The score for Million Dollar Baby is another exercise in subtlety, whose melancholic themes slowly affected audiences and listeners as the piece progresses. It’s a much more stripped back affair than its predecessor, which, in itself, was hardly bombastic, utilising little more than an acoustic guitar and a string quartet to draw out the required emotion of the piece.

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With this being an Eastwood project, jazz music is ever present and provides an occasional welcome break from the sadness of the score. The score is never overbearing, and the images on screen always take priority, but its presence accentuates what’s on screen magnificently.

Flags Of Our Fathers

Patriotic is a word that springs to mind when hearing Eastwood’s score for the US part of his war double bill, Flags Of Our Fathers. But like the film that it accompanies, it’s not patriotism without perspective. The film is countered with the Japanese perspective of the events depicted here, with Letters From Iwo Jima. The themes of patriotism in the score for Flags Of Our Fathers are countered with themes of melancholy that, at this point, are typical of Eastwood’s compositions.

The score is supplemented with a rather excellent collection of songs popular from around the era the which the film is set, which adds to the sense of time and place depicted in the film.

Simple string and piano melodies are enhanced with military drums. This is another fine example of a wonderfully considered and effective score that shows great attention to detail and isn’t overbearing.

Like Eastwood’s other pieces, this is an accompaniment rather than the main attraction, which is part of the reason why it’s so effective.

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Grace Is Gone

James C Strouse’s drama starring John Cusack lays it on a bit thick at times, but is a generally effective piece of work that boasts a great central performance from Cusack and an excellent score from Eastwood.

Tonally, Eastwood’s work here is quite similar to the pieces he penned for The Bridges Of Madison County, which were composed by long-time collaborator Lennie Niehaus. It’s a tender piece of work that matches the emotion of the film it accompanies and is worth a listen, given it’s one of those rare occasions wherein Eastwood has composed a score for a film that is not one of his own.


Such a large part of Changeling‘s success is down to the quality of the score Eastwood wrote to accompany it. There’s a strong sense of claustrophobia, paranoia and dread that adds to the tension throughout the film. This brooding piece of work is far from his most accessible piece, but it’s one of his most effective.

As with many of his scores, Eastwood’s love of jazz comes through here, as he uses styles from the period the film’s setting to masterfully give a sense of time and place. The score builds gradually throughout the film. What starts off quite low key gets more dramatic as the film progresses, with the introduction of a full orchestra adding to the dramatic build of tension.

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