January 13, 2009

It made my day


Mystic River. Million Dollar Baby. The remarkable Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. The list of Clint Eastwood's filmmaking achievements keeps growing. I never saw Clint's old Dirty Harry movies or westerns, but I am increasingly impressed by his skills as a writer, director, producer, even composer. Though not quite up to par with the other films, Gran Torino still manages to make you think while being entertained and leave you feeling like you've been punched. Though not quite as hard as the other movies.

I've wanted to see his latest film since I saw its trailer. Mr. Eastwood had me at "Get off my lawn!" He plays Walt Kowalski, a racist, patriotic and grumpy old man living in a more culturally diverse but deteriorating neighborhood. This growling Korean war veteran alienated from his own children strikes up a friendship with the Hmong family next door, even mentoring and becoming a father figure to young Thao after saving him from a gang initiation. We all know that beneath that gravelly voice and gruff bigoted exterior lies a soft chewy center, searching for redemption and peace. Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) is the young priest who's trying to bring the cynical widower back into the fold of the Church. As things escalate between Walt and the gangbangers, you can almost guess the inexorable conclusion.

Forget political correctness: the film is peppered with bad language and racial invectives (some of which I hadn't even heard before), but the results are always funny though slightly discomfiting. (Mr. Eastwood has a real talent for delivering one-liners.) It is a glimpse into America's changing landscape, brought about by immigration, multiculturalism, tolerance or intolerance, even Detroit's failing auto industry. But he didn't make a heavy handed movie about racism and the film ends on a hopeful note. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Kowalski: that somebody you shouldn't have messed with in the first place.

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