I suppose The Age is supposed to be to Melbourne as the NY Times is to New York. You know, our paper of record. But The Age just took another plunge into moronic writing when rookie film reviewer Jake Wilson summed up Clint Eastwood’s new film as a “slow burn drama“:
Interpreted by another director, Nick Schenk’s script might have been merely a sentimental fable of a grinch redeemed. But this is a late-period Eastwood film: the cracks in Walt’s facade only widen, and Gran Torino plays on the resulting ambiguities like a piece of music that strays between a major and minor key.
If I was to guess, I’d say this mess of drunken similes and overcooked hyperbole is caused by attending too many media screenings with movie critics. You start viewing films through a distorted lens after too many of those. The crowd I saw this film with Monday night had a very different take on the film: There were roars of laughter throughout most of the film (stopped only by the serious turn in the third act). If anything this film is a departure for Clint Eastwood as a director.
Clint has been making a name for himself as something of a sober classicist bleeding-heart liberal director with 2004’s ode to euthanasia Million Dollar Baby and 2006’s Letters From Iwo Jima (whose message I suppose is that the Japanese are people too which we all know is hippy liberal propaganda!). Gran Torino not only differs from those films by being a comedy but also by quite self-consciously dealing with Clint Eastwood’s screen persona.
How would today’s lefty Clint feel about the fact that his biggest legacy might very well be playing the part of a right wing hero in 1971’s Dirty Harry? Pauline Kael famously called Dirty Harry “the first American film that is a fascist work of art” [Ed note: This is actually a quote about Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Thanks Conall for the correction. J Hoberman is the guy who called Harry a fascist hero] and it’s easy to see why. We cheer on Harry Callahan when he breaks the law to get the villain and hiss when the villain uses human rights laws to demonise the cop. For chrissakes, the villain Scorpio is basically a big gay hippie.
In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood reimagines Dirty Harry as a retired Korean War veteran who is completely out of touch with the modern multicultural neighbourhood. He’s comically racist and hypermasculine, prepared to pull a gun on anyone who crosses him and finishing the job with a devestating one-liner. A Hmong family moves next door which enrages him at first but when he inadvertently saves them from a neighbourhood gang, an unlikely bond is formed. It’s classic fish-out-of-water comedy. Think Encino Man but with a lot more class. The big joke of the film is the realisation that Dirty Harry is redundant in the real world.
The only point where the film really falters is in the portrayal of the local gangs. It feels really false – there only needed to be one more “dawg” or “bro” in the dialogue to feel like I was watching The Fast and the Furious. It’s an indicative of a very black and white morality in the film that persists and is the main cause of the film’s conclusion which is well-meaning but fairly moronic.
Still, this is a film that is worth seeing for the laughs. The comedy of one scene in particular that has Clint’s character teaching a young Asian boy how to talk like a man in order to survive in construction work has a similar structure to the scene in 40 Year Old Virgin in which Seth Rogen teaches Steve Carell how to talk to women and is equally hilarious.
SEE THIS WITH:
Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971)
Encino Man (Les Mayfield, 1992)
Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008)
A good reference point for Eastwood’s excellent performance which pivots between caricature and subtle emoting is Meryl Streep’s performance in Doubt. In fact, their characters are very similar. Has someone cast these two in the same film? Because they really should. They both do Intimidating Grump really well.