February 18, 2011
I'm not the first to observe that Clint Eastwood does a consistently solid job of making a very old-fashioned kind of movie. Here, the director plays a cranky, gun-wielding widower whose only connection with the neighbors in his increasing Asian neighborhood involves growling at them to get the hell off his lawn. Gradually, he comes to the aid of a young Hmong boy and instructs him (sigh) in the peerless art of how to be a man. This mostly, of course, consists of teaching him how to insult other men's ethnicity with an odd mixture of gruffness and delicacy. Eastwood presents us with a racist saviour, a man of violence who meets a Christ-like end, and while these are hardly revolutionary moves, the film also has a gift for skipping away from easy categorization just as I was about to condemn it for self-satisfied conservatism.
The greater flaw here is how half-hearted the film seems in some of its crucial moments. The scene in which Clint destroys his own kitchen in a rage is one of many ill-rehearsed if not ill-conceived examples of this, as is just about any scene involving a priest who has just stepped earnestly out of a 40s melodrama. Eastwood at his actorly best is always a paragon of barely restrained violence and intensity. What we get here is something different from this taut restraint: a film pulling its punches.
Gran Torino (2008)
dir. Clint Eastwood