11 January 2009

Gran Torino

Based on what I see in trailers, there is sometimes a huge gap between what I am expecting from a film and what I get. Gran Torino seemed like it was going to be a very generic tale of an old man getting to know the people he hates, having his heart softened in the process, and then having to protect them from violence. The storyline was just that, but generic it wasn't. The film turned out to be one of the best surprises of the season.

I've always respected Clint Eastwood as an actor, but here he truly carries the picture and the results are moving. He turns what could have been a racist old geezer into a humorous and, at times, charming, though still racist veteran. The supporting players can't quite match his caliber, but in a way that's okay. He's the heart and soul of the story, and his performance matches that responsibility.

I return again to the humor, which caught me off guard. Some of it is racial in nature, almost a laughter of disbelief at a person saying the things that he says. But it's not limited to that. The way he treats people is cruel at times, but he thinks it's hilarious, and because of that, we do too. It helps lift the film from its possibly cliche trappings.

I'm still kind of processing the film, so I'm not sure of what to say. And that's okay, I think. Suffice to say that it is a very poignant and tender exploration of racism and friendship. It deals with racism in a much more complex and intelligent way than a lot of other films that purport to explore it. It's not the cut and dry violent force like in Crash, and it almost continues the conversation started in 50s and 60s films like Giant or In the Heat of the Night.

In terms of violence, it can also be seen as Eastwood's answer to the violence of some of his earlier films, particularly the Dirty Harry films, in the same way that Unforgiven was his answer to the violence of his Westerns. Parts of it are a little simplistic at times, plotwise, but it never ceases to couple that with further depths of the central character, which Eastwood will always be remembered for.

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