Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Film Review: GRAN TORINO (2008, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Kyle Eastwood, John Carroll Lynch.
Tag-line: "Clint Eastwood."
Best one-liner: "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's me."

"Let's go. We'll leave the Mick alone so he can... play with himself." This film is amazing. Just as amazing as the completely ludicrous trailer. Every bit of insanity and ridiculousness promised in the trailer is delivered, and in spades. Clint is so legendary, so committed to his work, so damn old, his pants pulled up so high, that no matter what he does, it's going to be entertaining and have some weight to it. His performance here is not being lauded cause people feel bad for him, like John Wayne's in TRUE GRIT. He has truly earned each and every accolade. Whether or not this is indeed Clint's farewell performance (both BLOOD WORK and MILLION DOLLAR BABY carried with them this possibility), he presents himself as a man transformed. In UNFORGIVEN, we saw Clint reinvented- wearier, worldlier, wiser- and we also saw a return to form with the nearly supernatural "Angel of Death" revenge finale. Back then, Clint was old, but here, he is truly ancient. He's a relic. His affected squint is now permanent. He no longer harshly intones, he growls. He doesn't even move his teeth as he snarls his terrifying reinvention of "Get off my lawn!"

This newest Clint is colorfully disdainful of modern society, its youth, its forced integration, its gang cultures, its multicultural tendencies. Everything which to him represents "the other" can be mocked, derided, and ridiculed (there are probably 4 or 5 racial slurs per minute), but not quite torn down. This is what he resents more than anything. The ease with which things can be torn down. His banter with John Carrol Lynch's barber is the perfect illustration. He says it's "how men talk." It's a carefully choreographed ballet of insults and racial epithets- there's no room, in his mind, for hamfistedness or outright denigration. This leads straight to bloodshed (and the barber indeed draws his gun when Thao, the young man Clint later takes under his wing, oafishly jumps straight to the crassest, least clever insults when training to "speak like a man").

Clint's personas over the years and his character Walt Kowalski here both are excellent at killing and dispatching violence. But Walt's attitude is far more Zen. He finds it more fulfilling to aim a gun comprised of his forefinger and thumb, to cut people down in his mind because there'd be no point to do it for real. He'd be taking himself down to their level. That is not to say that Clint can no longer brandish an actual gun to back up the one made by his fingers, but now he's above it all, so close to death, that he can't concern himself with the evil machinations of foolish men. This Clint is not a god of destruction, but a builder. And he spends this performance building up some relationships, that, while they could easily stray into after-school special territory, seem, for the most part, real. And when they're not, it's a mawkishness of CLINT's creation, so it's not actually corny. So pass the Pabst, close your eyes, and listen to Clint growl out the final song, "Gran Torino." It's earthy, weatherbeaten, and damned old. But it's also soft and comforting. And it just might be Clint's swansong.

-Sean Gill

COMING SOON: My vaunted end-of-the-year 'best films' list.

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