Paul Newman has a unique place in the history of American film. He bridged the leading-man archetype between the classic stars of the thirties and forties-—Tracy, Gable, Powell, Flynn-—and the antiheroes of the seventies-—Pacino, DeNiro, Hoffman-—having traits of both in spades.
Drop-dead handsome in the suits of the fifties and sixties, he brought real heat to the screen out of those clothes, in torn T-shirts or bare-chested. He embodied “every man wants to be him, every woman wants to be with him.”
A magnetic screen presence, he was sophistication imbued with an appealing irony, skepticism, and detachment. In my mind he represents America when we felt good about ourselves: tough, sometimes the underdog, gets back up when knocked down, takes time to enjoy a bicycle ride, defends honor, able to see and play the angles.
It feels like a terrible omen to lose this national treasure at the end of this unsettled week.