Why Was That Clint Eastwood Ad for Chrysler So Good?

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 7 2012 9:59 AM

That Clint Eastwood Ad Was David Gordon Green’s Best Work in Years

eastwood
Clint Eastwood in "Halftime in America," an ad for Chrysler.

The political content of the Chrysler Super Bowl ad narrated by Clint Eastwood has been debated ad nauseam (even Karl Rove weighed in, saying he was “offended” by it), but its artistic merits seem more or less undisputed. The lanky Eastwood silhouette walking in the darkness, his great raspy voice giving character to the spot’s plain-spoken and eloquent script, the equal parts of hope and despair in the shots of people getting ready for their work days or looking out at various American horizons.

The artistic quality of of the ad is no accident: Over at the Los Angeles Times book blog Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg points out that two of the ad’s copywriters are acclaimed literary writers: Matthew Dickman, a Portland-based poet (Weiden & Kennedy, the firm responsible for the ad, is also based in Portland, Kellogg notes), won no less than three prizes for his debut collection All-American Poem. And Smith Henderson just won a PEN award for his novel-in-progress.

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A number of great writers have written ads over the years: Fitzgerald, Rushdie, DeLillo, Elmore Leonard. But the Chrysler commercial is well-directed, too, and for that we can apparently credit David Gordon Green, whose early work—George Washington and All the Real Girls especially—captivated critics, but whose recent forays into comedy have yielded diminishing returns, at least in my estimation. (I still haven’t seen The Sitter, and confess I don’t have immediate plans to do so.)

Like their literary counterparts, many excellent directors have dabbled in advertising work, but the cumulative artistic pedigree behind “Halftime in America” seems unusually impressive. Which is presumably why it’s so good. I think I’m going to watch it again now.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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