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Saturday, June 4, 2011


constantin brancusi, sleeping muse, 1909

Last night I saw Clint Eastwood's film, GRAN TORINO. I anticipated a fairly good movie, considering Eastwood's films have been better with each one over the last several years, like a stairstep. Perhaps I appreciate most in his films that they look into the lives of working people sympathetically, people seldom seen in generic Hollywood movies. He evidently is based in Hollywood, but makes a film like an independent director. He goes with his own vision instead of the boxoffice formula. He understands boxoffice too, because he does very well there with excellent films that don't play down to the audience. His films give the audience the benefit of the doubt to be able to handle something on the verge of an art film without subtitles.

He brought to life a character in his 70s, instead of twenty-something, and used the story to develop the character. He took a block-headed Korean war vet who has lived his life seeing all the young guys he killed in the never ending slideshow of the mind. He was the American flag-waving racist the world passed by. His wife had recently died. His mint condition Gran Torino he kept in the garage while he drove an old Ford pickup. I had a feeling that his classic car, a real road runner, was the symbol for who he was within, behind the growling old curmudgeon, the ratty looking old garage. As the story went along, the curmudgeon stayed the same, but his heart became apparent from time to time. He was just a disappointed old turd that the world had turned out as it had with kids in gangs killing each other.

A family of Hmong people from Southeast Asia had moved in next door. When the old woman next door sat in her rocker on the porch and he was in his rocker, they cussed each other in their own languages. He hated it that Asians had taken over the neighborhood. When the Hmong gang was beating up the teenage boy next door on his front lawn, the Dirty Harry within came to the surface, pointing a rifle at them, telling them to get off his lawn. They talked back to him and he said, 'I could blow a hole in your face and sleep good tonight.' Next day all the Hmong families in the neighborhood
brought him food and flowers, thanking him. Though he continued to call them every gook name there was, zipperhead, slope, etc, just to name a few, they took to him.

As the story rolls on, it comes to a place where he commits the ultimate act to get all the gang boys that beat up the neighbor kid and his sister put in prison, shutting down the neighborhood terror squad. The end of the story was what I can only call perfect. It showed the true fullness of the man inside to be as grand as his polished Gran Torino. It's the kind of wrapping up that only Clint Eastwood the artist could make work. My first impulse was to think, 'Come on. Give me a break.' Immediately following that first split-second thought came awe. I love that it took a character an awful lot of people find objectionable, and looked into his life until we found the core that turned out to be a very beautiful soul. As in life. While we see him gradually become able to accept others as they are, we, the audience, become able to accept him as he is.

It is a rare film, let alone American film, that makes the story the development of a character, letting increasing insight into the individual's inner world be the story all the way seeing his soul. It brings to mind the film, That Evening Sun with Hal Holbrook. My objection with Eastwood films up to and including Unforgiven was absence of emotional depth. Emotionally they were flat. Then it seemed like about the time I caught on that was the problem I had with his films, it seemed like he began to notice too. Each film after that paid a great deal of attention to the emotional range unto Million Dollar Baby that took emotion all the way. This one, Gran Torino, was an emotional rollercoaster ride that said a very great deal in an hour and a half.


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