Take my words with as big a helping of salt as you choose, since I have got to be the biggest Clint Eastwood fan this side of forty. I have found something worth remembering and studying within every entry of his directorial output, even in the ones I don’t happen to prefer, and if the man himself actually appears in said entry, so much the better. I do believe that Gran Torino has something important to say, and – forget what you may have read – it’s not about race. That issue factors in here, of course, but not as much as most of the reviews seem to think. It’s not Clint’s way to hit you over the head with ideas about race. Instead, in Gran Torino he’s talking about America, and the national character upon which America was built, and how we later generations were given that America and how we’re beginning to forget it. It’s about the pussification of America, and what to do about it.
The reviews I’ve seen that use the word “racist” in conjunction with Gran Torino are simply stupid. Clint has never once made a movie endorsing racist views – on the contrary, in fact – and he isn’t about to start now. He’s playing a character here; don’t ever confuse the story with the storyteller. His character, Walt Kowalski, says plenty of racist things, but even he isn’t necessarily racist. Pussies put so much value on words that they forget that, more than anything, men are defined by their actions. Look at the actions, not the words. When Walt sees how his young Hmong neighbor Sue handles herself bravely in an intimidating situation, he immediately warms to her. When he sees her brother Thao help a lady with her spilt groceries after a couple other little shits laugh her off, Walt starts to see a kid worth knowing, worth toughening, worth ultimately saving.
Race in America has become THAT complicated, and some people are nearly that complicated: Walt hates everybody equally, his use of racist epithets are primarily a method of distinction, not judgment. He calls Asians “zipperheads” not necessarily because he hates all Asians – he calls them “zipperheads” simply because that’s what he has always called them. Walt is so used to disappointment, from his chubby yuppie sons and their little-shit kids, from the pussy-ass gangstas walking his streets, from the young college-boy pussies who think they have all the answers, that at this point he hates everyone he meets on sight. When people prove his hate to be justified, he growls. When people prove their worth, he warms to them, even if he stubbornly refuses to drop the lingo.
Gran Torino is a vintage Malpaso production, with all the class and smarts that tag has always guaranteed. Joel Cox edits with a pleasing rhythm, cinematographer Tom Stern provides an appropriately washed-out (and later, stark) palette, Clint’s son Kyle (with Michael Stevens) provide the neat score, and the script credited to Nick Shenck works just right, with an ending that even longtime Clint fans won’t see coming. I really hope that Clint isn’t done with acting, and if he isn’t, I hope he directs himself again – he knows how to use Clint Eastwood as an actor. He understands the history and audience expectations that come with a Clint Eastwood film, and he knows how to subvert, parody, and/or work alongside all of that. I haven’t seen a Clint character spit this much since The Outlaw Josey Wales, and I would guess that the reference is very much intentional. Love it.
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