Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Gran Torino"

Sons #1, #2 and I celebrated the Martin Luther King holiday by going out to see "Gran Torino," the new Clint Eastwood film. Some random thoughts:

- Clint really looks old these days. But hey, he's 78. He is old. I've read differing opinions on his performance: some people think he should be nominated for an Oscar, and others think he was just playing the same "Man With No Name/Dirty Harry" type of gruff loner that made him famous. I'm not sure the two are mutually exclusive. The fact that he makes it look easy doesn't mean that it is easy. There certainly aren't a lot of actors I can think of who could have pulled off the Walt Kowalski role at that age. I would like to have seen Henry Fonda or James Stewart try something like this, but in the late stages of their careers I'm not sure either one would have agreed to play such an unlikable character. You won't hear me complaining if Oscar comes calling.

- There should be no debate on this point: the actors playing Thao and Sue (Bee Vang and Ahney Her) were really good. Especially Ahney, who infuses her character with both grim determination and an upbeat outlook. Although Walt begins to come out of his shell through his interactions with Thao, Sue is the first person to really stand up to him, to ignore the racist swill coming out of his mouth and still make an attempt to bring him closer to her family and the neighborhood.

- I admit it, the Walt/Thao relationship reminded me a bit of Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel the ways of work and life in "The Karate Kid."

- The story has an element of sentimentality, but it doesn't try to gloss over Walt's enormous flaws. Even after he begins to interact with his neighbors, he is the same bitter man. The goodness is in there, but he doesn't change completely overnight.

- At first, the interactions with the young priest struck me as unbelievably hackneyed. But over time, the determination of Father Janovich showed him to be made of sterner stuff than his cherubic face would have you believe. He too is a strong man, strong enough to stand up to Walt and make him finally accede to his deceased wife's wishes.

The theater we saw the film in was sold out, and it was a diverse crowd - teenagers to septuagenarians, and a veritable rainbow coalition of colors. The crowd laughed a lot, which I did not interpret to mean as diminishing the impact of Walt's racism, but rather to point out what a ridiculous figure he really was - heroic but asinine at the same time.

All in all, I'd recommend it highly.

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