Monday, June 15, 2009


Someone needs to explain to me right now why GRAN TORINO is considered the #77 best film of all time according to Internet Movie Database readers. Better yet, someone needs to explain to me why Hollywood trips over itself every time a Clint Eastwood picture comes along. I get it; he’s an icon. He’s probably even a very likable fella. The man has been directing films since the early 1970’s. He’s even won two Oscars for directing (one for UNFORGIVEN and again for MILLION DOLLAR BABY). I’m not saying he isn’t talented; even I lavished him with praise for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. But for every one of those, there is another FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Or worse yet, there’s MYSTIC RIVER – God, that one was particularly painful. Just because Clint is a legend does not mean everything he touches will be legendary.

Had I caught GRAN TORINO in theatres upon its release, I would have likely named it among the worst films of 2008. I am so thrilled the Academy Awards ignored this embarrassment. Audiences did not ignore this picture though; the film went on to gross just under $150 million in North America. Many people saw this picture as a retired reincarnation of Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character. Personally, I saw his character, Walt Kowalski, as the kind of old white guy who is generally seen as the generation that needs to die off in order for America to become open minded. He leers in judgment at everyone he crosses – from his pierced, ungrateful granddaughter to his inexperienced priest to his Korean neighbors who won’t get off his lawn. His wife has just passed and now that he is totally alone, all he has to keep him company is his misery. Well, that is until he ends up befriending the Korean neighbors and they subsequently change his whole outlook on other cultures. Apparently, it isn’t so tricky to teach an old dog new tricks.

Pulling double duty as director and lead actor must have taken a lot of Eastwood’s focus. I can think of no other explanation why he didn’t notice that nearly all the other performances in GRAN TORINO are distractingly laughable. It’s all about Walt though. He is an old crank who spouts out racial obscenities to passersby or to himself while he incessantly mows his lawn or sits on his porch downing canned beer and hating everyone. Focusing all his attention on Walt meant leaving all the secondary characters to rely on nothing more than racial stereotypes to establish themselves. In the end then, Walt has to resolve his ignorance with a society that is written from an already ignorant perspective and we’re supposed to commend him for his progress. Thank goodness that the old, angry white guy was able to open his mind in time to see that he had to come to the rescue of all the unruly foreigners. Very progressive indeed.

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