Old cowboys don’t die. They go in a magnesium flame of creativity. This film is illustration to Americans of what Francois Truffuat meant when he said of the Robert Bresson film The Diary of a Country Priest ” every shot is as true as a handful of earth” . Clint Eastwood is a master Auteur now, and has taken personal expression in cinema to a new high with Gran Torino.
The first fifteen minutes of the film left me wide eyed and with a lump in my throat. And it went from there. Every shot was tone perfect. Clint’s face told us history . I cried for every gruff flag waving veteran neighbor who took the time to talk to me in small town America. I cried for me for being so lucky. I cried happy tears in between for every nod the film made to genre conventions – the grasshoppa is a toad. The gook is the student. The Gang is unwarnished evil. The cute oriental chick plays out her trope with the old soldier (Oh clint, I wish you had got the girl!).
The casting was pitch perfect. The audience twittered around me at the silliness of the politically incorrect Old man and then cried as events were sprung on them, blindsided as they were, nervously watching the senescent Walt Kowolski (aptly chosen name) spout about the gooks living next door.
This I said to myself repeatedly, is America. This is what being American is. More importantly, I said, This is what a Hollywood movie is as my tears washed away all pretense of my reverse snobbery about the tradition of American film. This is Hollywood I said, as a “Oscar montage” of the greatest Hollywood films, the greatest Clint Eastwood films…flashed before my eyes.
I was gripped. I didn’t want to know what would happen before a scene unfolded, my eyes were in thrall of the pictures on the screen. I was listening with all my senses. And clint was talking.
If there’s a such genre as the aging dude flick, clint created and now owns it. It started as he aged in the seventies., with the Dirty Harry films. And then he directed one film after another that gave voice to the regrets and strengths of old age. He wasn’t trying to be a cool old man he just made films that reflected the passion of clint. Million Dollar Baby,Mystic river Unforgiven, Bridges of Madison county…
With each film he grew. Gran Torino is a better film than Million dollar Baby. Which is a better film than mysic river.
Walt Kowolski owns a Ford Grand torino(whose steering Assembly he put in in the job he used to work in at Ford in Detroit). He hurls invective at the slanty eyed neighbors(the hmong, he is informed by the English speaking, American Born brother and sister from next door) and there is some talk, during his wife’s funeral of his winning a medal in Korea. And then the neighbors reach out to him, with affection, as he stands up for them against the local Hmong gang trying to enlist tao (toad, to Walt) . Kowolski takes toad under his wing (in a flip of the Martial arts genre, where the weak white kid is trained to be a fighter by the old Chinese guy) and teaches him to speak like a man in a barbershop Then shit happens.
And then I cried for slumdog millionaire, for being out in the year this film was filmed.slumdog may win many oscars, but it has lost me to this film,through its own inattentiveness to detail.(read my music review of it below).
If bollywood is the cinema of cheerful optimism, this is bollywood. If bollywood is the cinema of manipulative melodrama, this is manipulative melodrama. And this is America’s Bollywood the writers( Nick Schneck, Dave Johanssen script, Nick Schneck screenplay) seemed to tell me. And I agreed, because this was a story of today’s America. This was about today’s bombed out Industrial Midwest America, and more importantly, this was about value, in old age, as everything starts wearing away like bones with osteoperosis . The film taught this to me from the story of an old soldier that went and killed and was awarded medals for a cause he didn’t fully understand(knew was wrong) . And it told me not to forget my people…my people who care for me even if they think they don’t , because we share this destiny.
Funny word, huh? Destiny…