Sunday, May 1, 2011

L'homme Sans Nom

Throughout the history of film, there have been very few actors who have been able to continue their careers through the tumult and tribulations of old age. Many incredibly successful actors have lost their vibe past the age of 60 or so; there is Al Pacino, who immortalized mobster films in roles like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" and "The Godfather: Part II", and as Tony Montana in "Scarface". There is the once great Marlon Brando, whose success alongside Pacino in "The Godfather" and in earlier films such as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On The Waterfront" came to a screeching halt in the last 20 years of his life ("Apocalypse Now" was arguably his last memorable film). Even Robert De Niro, another actor who became famous largely because of Coppola's mafia masterpiece and enjoyed success well into the 1980s, lost his touch past the year 2000. Pacino, De Niro and Brando were three of the most skilled actors of their generations, but the ever-present beast that is old age swallowed up all three of these talents. Of course, there are those who will argue that Pacino has had mildly successful stints in both film and television in the past 10 years or so, but there's really been nothing substantial. All this being said, there is one man who took on old age and emerged victorious. That man was Clint Eastwood, and his 2008 picture "Gran Torino" is what I'll be talking about today.

"Gran Torino" follows Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a puttering, 80-something Korean War vet with a lot of pent up anger and some serious racial prejudices. He is the sole white guy living in an entirely Asian neighborhood in a working class Michigan town dominated by inter-Asian gang violence. His next door neighbors, a family of Hmong Chinese immigrants, have a young teenage son, Thao, and his older sister Sue. Walt is also constantly bothered by his son, who is a world-class jerk-off, and the reverend from his local church who will not leave him alone for a confession. After Thao's reluctant attempt to steal Walt's prized possession, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, as part of his initiation into the local Hmong gang, he begins working for Walt in exchange for his not pressing charges. As you can imagine, much "old guy meets shy young kid and softens up" begins to ensue, and the two become pals of sorts. I won't ruin the plot of the film for you, that is if you haven't already seen it, but eventually Walt gets involved in the local gang violence and must take charge in protecting himself and the family next door.

The film is directed and produced by Eastwood, who also stars as Walt, the politically incorrect yet hilariously racist protagonist. Eastwood started acting way back in 1957...his career has spanned five decades of film, and he remains one of the most hard-hitting and totally badass actors around. I was not surprised to hear that this would be Eastwood's final role as an actor, because, to me, "Gran Torino" was a swan song for him. He wonderfully portrayed the pain that a man goes through when he loses his wife, but, more importantly, he did it very realistically. That is to say that, even when he wasn't speaking, or the camera wasn't on him, you could feel the anger radiating from his character, the eternal anger that he feels against the world around him and the people in it. I feel like if Eastwood were to go back into acting in a lead role, he might not be able to top his performance in "Gran Torino", which is why stopping, I think, was a good choice for him.

The movie, though laced with brutal violence, cursing and blatant racism, (Walt's favorite word seems to be the all-encompassing Asian slur 'gook') is touching, and also pretty damn funny, in its portrayal of the relationship between Walt and Thao. For Walt, getting past his blind hatred for all Asian people wasn't easy, but he softened up and gave Thao and Sue a chance. He even taught Thao how to "be a real man" in a scene that is worth the price of admission alone. Sue was the one who really reached out to him, and deserves an honorable mention (though the acting on the part of Sue was not the best I've ever seen, to be frank). Sue and Walt connected on another level, after Walt's totally "Dirty Harry" rescue of Sue from some local thugs ("Ever notice how you come across somebody once in awhile you shouldn't have fucked with? That's me"). Which brings me to another point: Clint's ongoing ability to come off as the baddest M.F.-er you'll ever meet. My favorite scene from the movie takes place when the local Hmong gang is fighting on Walt's lawn. He comes outside and the following takes place:

Hmong gangster: "Go on back inside, old man!"

Walt: "How about I blow a hole in your fuckin' face, then I go inside and sleep like a baby!"

This is something that, if anyone else (with the exception of Joe Pesci) said it, I would find it vulgar and overly violent. But the way Clint did it...perfect.

Anyway, after this extensive review, (they aren't usually this long, not to worry) I would give "Gran Torino" 9 stars out of 10, and recommend it immediately to anyone remotely interested in film or remotely interested in Eastwood. The storyline is compelling, the characters are deep, and Clint gives a fantastic performance as a tortured soul who, in all honesty, just wants to be left in peace. Easily on my Clint Top 5 List. Enjoy!


1 comment:

  1. reading your review makes me want to see this movie again. walt's relationship with his next door neighbors was more familial that what he had with his own flesh and blood. watching him slowly let his guard down is touching. this is a wonderful film about redemption.