The wife and I recently watched Gran Torino. It's a great movie, alternatively funny, sad, suspenseful, and poignant. Eastwood's film-making style is simple, very reminescent of John Ford's. Put someone in the frame, let them act, and move on.
Thematically, though, Eastwood has over the last 20 years managed to explore important issues without being heavy-handed. And he does so in GT to perfection. Here, Clint Eastwood is playing...Clint Eastwood. Or more appropriately, Clint Eastwood is playing "Clint Eastwood," the man that the audience thinks he is in real life: tough, sometimes mean, uncompromising, outspoken. But his films of the last 20years and perhaps going all the way back to The Outlaw Josey Wales tell a different story of the man. If you've been paying attention, you would have realized that Clint Eastwood is not Dirty Harry. He is not an advocate of violence. He's not interested in making political statements, for one wing or the other. He's more interested in having a discussion.
The people who've realized this are the ones enjoying the films he's more lately produced. The people who have not, the ones that see him as the caricature that Dirty Harry became over the years, are the ones not enjoying the films he's made recently.
Gran Torino could just be his swan song as an actor. And it would be a marvelous way to end that part of his career, the perfect way to, in his typical fashion, make a statement without making a statement.
Ostensibly, the plot summary reads like just another "mismatched couple that learns a lot from each other" story. Or, Finding Forrester with guns. Clint plays a racist Korean War vet who becomes neighbors with a Hmong family next door. He befriends the family and develops close relationships with the two children especially. As John Wayne did for Ron Howard in The Shootist, Clint teaches the teenaged boy how to be a man and about how to survive in the world.
Despite the obviously low budget and unseasoned actors, the film works very well as a contemplation on life and death, and everything in between. Eastwood, as is his way, shows us just how much the younger generation doesn't "get it," but also makes sure to show us just how much the older generation doesn't get it either.
What struck me most when the credits rolled was the realization that I had just seen a Western. The neighborhood that has "turned" is just another imagining of the frontier that Eastwood rode through in all his Westerns--untamed, dangerous, and violent. The police, the only representation of government in this story, are of little consequence at all--the only assistance they are able to provide is at the crime scene, after everything has happened. Women need to be escorted anywhere they go, and their escorts need to be strong, tough characters, or else they are in serious danger. And more often than not, the only way to end a confrontation is by threatening to use a gun. Or by using it.
But Eastwood's universe is never that simple, as the ending, which I won't give away, reveals. Yes, it's a Western set in 2008 Detroit. But it's also so much more. As Eastwood himself has said, the Western is one of the uniquely American art forms, one of the very few. It is only right that the Western, therefore, be used to explore what is the American experience. And that's what Gran Torino is also about--growing up in America and growing old in America.
I recommend it to all with this caveat: don't go in expecting to see Dirty Harry. Because that's not who Clint Eastwood really is.
1 week ago