Clint Eastwood has had an illustrious career in the film industry, starting all the way back in the 1950s when he was mostly doing uncredited bit parts. His directorial debut came in 1971 with “Play Misty for Me,” a low budget psychological thriller. Since then, he has directed Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films like “Unforgiven,” “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” which further cemented his legacy as a filmmaker. His 33rd film, “Jersey Boys” — an adaptation of the musical of the same name — may not reach the levels of some of his finer efforts, but is still a worthy addition to his catalogue.
Eastwood normally takes a more deliberate approach to storytelling in his especially dramatic films. These films contain numerous slowly-paced sequences that position the focus on the performances. Six of his last nine films have produced Golden Globe and Academy award nominations for performances from recognizable names like Angelina Jolie, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.
Curiously — or perhaps not so curiously — Eastwood’s approach to “Jersey Boys” is no different, focusing on the more dramatic aspects of the narrative rather than creating a prototypical musical. The film appears lacking in vitality, with a de-saturated color palette in many scenes, and might give some the same impression of the film as a whole, because of its focus. “Jersey Boys” may not have the energy one expects in a musical film, but it’s all meant to highlight the performances of the actors, who put themselves in the center with many moments of narrative-driven dialogue.
Only the performances of Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito and John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, however, stand out, which seems appropriate given the narrative’s slight focus on the troubles of their friendship. To any fan of HBO’s television series “Boardwalk Empire,” Piazza’s DeVito may seem like a toned-down version of Lucky Luciano, but he remains charismatic enough to keep the audience’s interest in the scene. Young, who reprised his role from the Broadway production, showcases his Hollywood chops, but truly shines in the musical numbers. The performances are not Oscar-worthy, but they do their part to keep the film from becoming a languid affair.
It is the musical numbers, however, that are the essence of the film and give it necessary jolts of energy. If the actors’ performances do not grab your attention, the film’s renditions of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ classics are sure to do so. Each song is as magnetic as the last and lends the film an ample amount of charm. Not surprisingly, the true star of the show is Young, whose sweet and impressive voice carries each number forward. His performance of the Frankie Valli solo hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” the best the film has to offer, is especially vigorous and captivating.
Nearly six decades after his start in Hollywood, Clint Eastwood continues to go strong as a filmmaker. Given his pedigree, expectations for his films are fairly lofty, and while “Jersey Boys” may not be on par with his best work, he does well enough to create a musical film with his own distinctive touch. Even though some of his later films have not enjoyed the same amount of critical success as others, his status as a Hollywood legend remains in tact. Face it: You can’t take your eyes off of him.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars