Bernie McCabe, a longtime reader, forwards this question from his chum Jim Mahoney, who hosts a film festival in North Jersey.
As the discussion of Grapes of Wrath developed last week, I found myself quoting some commentators to the effect that John Ford became the foremost Director of “Americana” themes of his day—the Westward expansion of the “Grapes” paralleled the Westward expansion he depicted in his cowboy movies; the American as “loner” he also developed with John Wayne and others; he also got into the whole Indian business, among other notable themes. Then one of the folks asked, “So who’s the ‘Americana’-theme Director of our own day?”
My top-of-head response was Clint Eastwood. From Bronco Billy through Unforgiven, The Bridges of Madison County, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers and Gran Torino he's been interested, both in the nature of the nation and human nature of its citizens. Most of his movies as a director have been about how average Americans adapt to changing times.
No sooner did I press "send" than I thought of Robert Redford, another actor-turned-director, who likewise has been a significant chonicler of American people and events. Whether he was mining the land-use battles in The Milagro Beanfield War, the natural paradises of The River Runs Through It and The Horse Whisperer, the ethical minefields in Quiz Show and Lions for Lambs (and the forthcoming Lincoln assassination-themed The Conspirator, opening Friday), Redford is a keen observer of the American scene.