Heroes Come in Many Guises
Actor / Director Clint Eastwood has once again told a story that is worth every minute of the 116 minutes of runtime it took to another of his well told tales. At the time of this publication, Clint has just turned 79 years old, and "Gran Torino" will not be his last film, with "Invictus," a film about Nelson Mandella in post production, and considering the strength of his spirit and his artistic consistency, I pray there will be many more.
Since Eastwood's Oscar Winning Best Picture, "Unforgiven," in 1992 the actor, but mostly the director, has been extremely consistent in the quality of the films he has made. Clint Eastwood's approach to making films and gauging the quality of those films is best reflected in these comments by the film maker, that I summarize here, "When I make a film, I make it because I think it will be good. If the public likes it, I'm happy. If they don't, I'm still moving to the next project, hoping they'll like the next one."
In a recent interview the director, the director also opined, "You can find a million reasons why something didn't work. But if it feels right, and it looks right, it works. Without sounding like a pseudo-intellectual dip-shit, it's my responsibility to be true to myself. If it works for me, it's right."
Mr. Eastwood's direct approach towards his art has served him and his patrons well over the years. There is no fluff, just an unburnished view into the complicated lives of regular folks interwoven into a story that the director tells so well in celluloid. His most recent film, "Gran Torino," is an outstanding example of his simple tale of a regular man, Walt Kowalski, in his twilight years trying to reconcile his life and his world before his life-ticket is unceremoniously punched.
Walt Kowalski, played by Actor Eastwood: has just lost his one and only wife, Dorothy, to death, his neighborhood is in transition and the direction is down, his two sons love him but do not understand him and keep their distance and Walt is getting sick: He is aware that he may be dying. Walt is a retired Ford autoworker; he served his nation in Korea for the duration of the conflict and saw way too much death. His demeanor is damaged, his language is course, his attitude is cheerless; but, there one issue, we can be clear on: Walt buys American.
To him, today's youth is directionless and self-absorbed and he is angry about the Oriental folks living next door. The Orientals, next door, have let their house fall into disrepair - just another symptom of a dying neighborhood. Death and the decay of death is all around Walt, except two things - his well maintained 1930's period middle-class home, and his 1972 Gran Torino. Walt has knowledge that he put the steering column his vintage car when it was being manufactured decades earlier: His car has a piece of his past deep within it. Director Eastwood utilizes the car as an analogous symbol of the good deep within Walt Kowalski, but first, we get to know the curmudgeon.
When an armed Walt chases an aspiring be car thief from his garage, he realizes he will be forced to defend his home or leave the neighborhood for good. Walt chooses to defend his home. The next day, Walt finds an oriental gang on his lawn kicking the crap out of the teenage Oriental next door, Thao Vang Lor, played by newcomer Bee Vang. Walt doesn't really care about the youth taking the beating; he just doesn't like the Orientals on his manicured lawn:
A M1 / Garand aiming,
The now iconic, "Get off my lawn."
Gang Member, "Listen Old Man, you don't want to fuck with me."
Walt still aiming the M1 with a full magazine, advancing toward the gang members. "Did you hear me; I said get off my lawn now."
Withdrawing Gang Member, "You fuck'n crazy, go back in the house."
A menacing Walt slowly
Clint has a way of making you believe his intent is real.
A faster withdrawing gang member, "Okay... but you better watch your back."
Thao's thankful sister, "Thank-you."
Walt Kowalski to the clean, neat oriental sister, "Get off my lawn."
Word spreads about Walt standing up to the gang, and the neighboring Orientals shower Walt with food and flowers to the brink of Walt's customary anger. One doesn't know whether the petite Orientals revere him or fear him, but these persistent people, in particular Thao's mercurial sister, Sue Lor played first timer Ahney Her, are slowly succeeding in eroding Walt's gruff, reflexive-racist exterior.
I have informed you of much within this film, however, "Gran Torino" is so simple in its message, and yet so profoundly deep in it meaning that I have actually told you very little. Director Eastwood manages a tight interpretation of a film that is paced by the rich dialogue of a Nick Schenk screenplay of a Dave Johannson story. Another aside here, Gran Torino is a dramatic film, but in all Eastwood films, as in life, there is an element of satire, of layered humor that enriches the picture: Makes it more real. Look for it or be surprised, but be aware, it is tucked in the jagged creases of Walt's world.
The actors do a good job, with: the aforementioned Lor kids and Christopher Carley as the young, fresh faced Father Janovich, who was sworn by Dorothy to bring a very reluctant Walt back to the faith and John Carol Lynch as Walt's Barber, bantering with the stoic Walt; however, one quickly understands, this is Walt's film and Clint is pitch perfect as the man witnessing his life's clock winding down.