Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gran Torino

Great actor. Great director. Handsome man. Loving father.

Clint Eastwood just gets better with age, dictating the atmosphere of the screen and dominating every scene he's in. And he's in pretty much every scene in Gran Torino.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is an old war veteran living in a Michigan neighborhood that's increasingly dominated by immigrants. His wife just died, he's indifferent to his sons and their families, irritated by his church's efforts to reach out, and annoyed by all the changing the world's been doing without him.

There's also a plot in this movie involving his Asian neighbors and an Asian gang, but the main attraction here is just seeing all the shades of Clint Eastwood's character-- most of which involve being a badass.

Clint's performance is a character with character, and long after the movie's events have been seen and forgotten it's the character that will stick with you. It's just as well that so much of the movie focuses on him, because the rest of the cast is made up of unknown actors and their performances are... Well, there's a reason they are unknown.

Walt is a remnant of an time that's come and gone. That's how his family sees him, and it's an image he both grudgingly lives up to and pushes back against. He's a grizzled old Republican that sits on his porch with a beer and a shotgun, wincing at the outfits young people dress themselves up in these days, and narrowing his eyes grimly at the neighborhood chinks and gooks and spooks and zipperheads (I had to look that last one up).

Now at the age of 78, Clint's voice seems to be capable of only that dour growl, yet this has just served to amplify personality rather than diminish it. Who else can, at his age, still get a shotgun pointed at a dude's head and credibly say "I blow a hole in your face and then I go in the house and sleep like a baby," with a deep surly growl that lets you know he means business. "We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea, use you for sandbags."

I'm far too young to know Clint Eastwood for the roles that made him famous. It has been 38 years since Dirty Harry; 43 years since The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; and 54 years since his first acting role. That I can even speak of him with a splash of nostaligia for roles concieved decades before I was born is a tribute to his durability.

The lead section of his Wikipedia article calls him-- with citation!-- an enduring icon of masculinity. Is there a greater honor?

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