Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gran Torino / Reader Submission #02

First I have a confession to make: I don’t watch Clint Eastwood movies. Ever. I know, I know. It’s a Cardinal Sin for a guy to admit this. I’m not really sure why honestly I don’t. I have nothing against the guy. I think he’s a great actor and a brilliant director; I just for some reason always pass on his movies. He’s like one of those bands I know I would really like if I put in the time to listen to them, but I simply haven’t. He’s my actor equivalent to the Foo Fighters.
With that now out of the way you will understand my first take on the movie. As soon as Clint opened his mouth, I was stunned. I wasn’t prepared to hear a 75 man have the voice combination of Batman and McGruff the Crime Dog. Now admittedly this is my fault for not knowing how Clint normally sounds in a movie so I cannot blame anyone but myself. It still, however, took some time to get used to the speaking voice. Once I stopped paying attention to the voice and focused on the words, they were amazing. Yes his general conversation was outrageously racist, but it was real. And don’t feel guilty for laughing at times to his comments. Some of them are so over the top that you cannot help but laugh at how ridiculous this man’s thought process really is. He was a Korean War vet who could not separate himself from his war time, still living in a mind set from 50 years earlier. With that mind set intact, his political incorrectness is extremely out of place in our current society but fits in fine in the world he still imagine he lives in. He constantly offends his neighbors and family with his racist names and stereotypes, yet manages to win them over at the same time with heroic actions. It’s a great battle of the non-hero rising to hero status while the whole time not wanting to do so. In the end he surprises everyone with one final act to save the neighborhood and show he wasn’t such a grouch all along.
Overall I give the movie a ”Definitely Rent” rating as it is worth the time and effort to see. It’s a nice combination of Falling Down, Boondock Saints, and any Clint Eastwood western movie (I’d name one, but as I mentioned before I haven’t seen them). Clint plays the same gritty, tough character you expect but reveals a soft spot at times to show there’s still a human in there. The supporting cast has a nice function with brother and sister neighbor roles which have completely opposite extrovert and introvert personalities to provide different interactions with Eastwood and keep things entertaining. So I recommend renting this movie on a slow Tuesday night when you want a nice combination of drama, action, and sarcastic dry humor. Crack open a cold Budweiser, enjoy the movie, but just don’t think of quoting Eastwood’s lines anywhere in public. Ever.
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Kevin, thank you for this submission. First, let me just encourage you to see some more Clint Eastwood (the actor) movies. A Fistful of Dollars, Dirty Harry, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven; they’re definitely worth it and they came out in a time when action was maybe a bit over the top, but the characters were actually tough and weren’t softened up like today’s cowboys and cops.

I had been itching to see Gran Torino for some time, but I wanted to even more after receiving your submission. And so I did. Most of the movies directed by Clint are accompanied by critical praise, but this one seemed to either not be good enough or just slipped under the radar with Clint having directed what seems like 97 movies in 3 years. The lack of praise actually peaked my interest and made me wonder “will this be the best of the recent crop?” Well, was it? First, let’s address your points.

Clint does sound like an old grizzled man (which, obviously, he is) and his voice is somewhat comical especially when he mumbles the archetypal old man line, “Get off my lawn!” Of course, instead of shaking his fist in a pair of Depends he’s pointing a M1 Garand rifle at some kids face - definitely bad ass!

Your analysis of Walt (Clint Eastwood) and his inability to let go of his world from 50 years ago is so true. And you do find yourself laughing at some of his outlandish and racist comments. I’ll be the first to say I do not tolerate any type of derogatory language for race, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, but Walt’s character is definitely hiding a “Thesaurus: Racism Edition” somewhere in those hiked up khakis.

But the movie leaves a little something to be desired. Some of the developments of the relationship between Walt and his neighbors seem a bit rushed and half-baked. And the supporting characters are a bit weak, only popping up when they have something crucial to say or reveal rather than when would be consistent or appropriate for the character. For instance, the way his children handle their mother’s funeral is just mind boggling even if their relationship with their war vet father is strained. And the priest from the local church is supposed to be dedicated to convincing Walt to attend confession, but only comes around when he can advance the story. There are other issues, some with the plot points and development, others with acting. But in the end, the whole of this movie is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is not Clint Eastwood’s best movie in the last few years, but I must admit that I was pleased. Originally I hoped I would get a little more of a Boondock Saints vibe from this, but there is less vigilante and more humanity in Gran Torino than advertised. And it’s for the better. Walt goes on a very personal journey seeking salvation, something he has been in search of for over 50years. Along the way he befriends and effects people he thought he was sworn to hate and would never understand. He teaches those who thought they had the answers, and learns from those he thought could teach him nothing. Not everything for Walt wraps up with a nice bow and gift card, but he learns a lot about life near the end of his own when all he knew was loss and death. And it’s a great little journey to go on for 2+hrs even though at points the vehicle seems a little lost. Oh, and Kevin, don't drink a Budweiser with this movie. Crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon; would Walt have it any other way? -- 3 reels out of 5

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