CLINT Eastwood may be less than two years away from his 80th birthday but it is extraordinary how his powers as a film-maker are growing as he gets older.
There have been glimpses of true directorial greatness in the past – his Oscar winning triumph of Unforgiven (1992) and the legendary Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) springing instantly to mind.
But it is worth remembering that it was less than a decade ago that he was directing such anonymous fare as Space Cowboys, Blood Work and True Crime.
Mystic River in 2003 marked the turning point, followed by the emotionally shattering Million Dollar Baby which was covered in Oscar glory just over a year later.
And it is the human connection made by that film that most readily springs to mind with his latest project, described by Eastwood as “an adult horror film” and one that is based on a true story.
Set in Los Angeles in the 1920s, it stars Angelina Jolie (slowly transforming from a headline grabbing movie star into a fine screen actress) as a hard-working single mother who suffers the ultimate nightmare when the nine-year-old son she dotes on goes missing.
Five months later, the police inform her they have found the child – only for her to instantly declare the boy is not her son when she sets eyes on him.
By this point, we have realised that Eastwood has more of a story to tell here than that of a missing child. For he has been busy setting up the Los Angeles Police Department as an institution riddled with corruption, populated by self-serving officers far more concerned with furthering their own careers than fighting crime.
Under pressure to clean up their act, senior officers decide to use the missing boy case as an example of the LAPD doing good work so when Jolie threatens to rain on their parade, they decide to have her committed to an asylum as a mentally unstable unfit mother.
The growing sense of outrage and frustration that these developments create within Jolie’s character are successfully evoked in anyone watching, making this tough going on the nerves but also a film that never releases its grip for a second once the rollercoaster ride of a story is under way.
STAR RATING: ****