I Finish Things

No offense, but the people who’ve been slamming Gran Torino have their heads up their posterior cavities. Or maybe just broomsticks. They sure don’t seem to understand the legend and the mythology of director-star Clint Eastwood, which is what this film is mainly about (apart from the sections having to do with love, caring, guilt, moral growth and father-son relations). But to watch and fail to get this thing is to admit to a failing — a void — in your own moviegoing heart. Anyone who mocks this film, I mock them back double.

Set in a lower middle-class Detroit neighborhood, Gran Torino is a plain, straight, unpretentious…okay, a tiny bit hokey-here-and-there racial-relations drama by way of an older conservative sensibility — Clint’s, obviously, but also, it seemed to me, John McCain‘s. Get off my lawn, etc. McCain needs to see it and review it for the Huffington Post — seriously. That would be perfect.

It’s an old-fashioned film in that the pacing is gradual and methodical in a good 1962 way, but primarily this is a clean, disciplined, older-guy’s urban western — a kind of growly, sardonic, at times lightly comedic racial-relationship drama. But also a sad and fatalistic Shane movie about a morally compromised guy facing down the baddies at the finale. Light and darkish, brusque and kindly, spitting up blood. Old-guy angst, doubt, warmth, uncertainty, fear-of-death, fear-of-life, family– the whole magillah. What’s to dislike?

Popcorn-wise, this is a doddering Dirty Harry vs. evil-ass gangbangers conflict piece, except it takes its time getting to the Big Showdown parts and there aren’t that many of them to begin with. Like Shane, GT keeps the guns holstered and makes every shot count.

But the confrontation scenes in this vein are awfully damn satisfying because we’re watching the same old Harry, a little weathered but just as fierce as he was nearly 40 years ago, standing up and refusing to take any shit from any cheap-ass punks. But at the same time Walt Kowalski — i.e., Clint’s character — is the kind of guy who’s always letting slight little shafts of light in as he deals with and talks to others. The kind of light, I mean, that comes in odd underhanded ways. Blunt honesty, kindliness, vulnerability, consideration, and tender-gruff father-son conversations, etc. Tough sentiment, but not sentimentality.

Either you get and cherish the Clint thing, or you don’t get and cherish the Clint thing. There’s no third way. Either you understand that he makes films that sound a certain way, share a certain pictorial signature, are cut a certain way and unfold at a certain pace — the same way Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Bridges of Madison County and all the rest of them played, looked and unfolded — or you don’t understand that.

I understand that. I got it. I admired it. Gran Torino knows itself, is true to itself. And there’s nothing the least bit embarassing or short-fally or Razzie about it. Not in the least. David Poland, hang your head.

Under-30s are advised to stay away. Seriously — you’ll just be wasting your time. Especially younger women. But over 35, over 40 and especially over 50 types are welcome. Guys who’ve been around for the long Clint ride and know what it’s always been about I’ve seen it twice now and GT is about as good as this sort of thing can get. You just have to know what “this sort of thing” really and truly means — the deep-down content and perimeters of it, I mean.

I’ll get into this film again tomorrow, most likely. The other actors, the jokes, the warmth moments — there’s a lot that’s rich and rewarding in this film.

Is Clint’s performance likely to draw a Best Actor nomination? Most likely, yeah. Partly a gold-watch thing, partly for the acting itself. The current inside his acting is quite strong, his whole life running through it. It’ll feel weird if a nomination doesn’t happen — put it that way.

  • http://www.suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com rgmax99

    Looking forward to this and, if Wells is correct, I’m glad the Clint-haters will have to suck on it.

  • Edward

    As a long-time reader I have to say that when you recommend a film, It’s almost always worth seeing. I’ve been looking forward to this.

  • Geoff

    Good news to hear, and I’m in the under 30 crowd.

  • actionman

    Yeah, it’s tough to argue with Clint at this point. Can’t wait to see this. I also thought Changeling was terrific and cannot believe some of the inane criticism lodged against it. I’m not surprised in the slightest to hear Wells report that Gran Torino is yet another winner from Eastwood.

    However, I still think that A Perfect World is his best film to date.

  • JD

    Further proof that critics in their 60s/70s, etc. have no objectivity when it comes to Clint Eastwood. They see their fathers, they see themselves, and they see one of their heroes… but they don’t necessarily see the actual movies. Obviously, CE is the best thing about Gran Torino. The entire movie is designed to appeal to our collective love for Eastwood, particularly when playing flawed, superficially unlikeable characters. And yes, this movie is satisfying — in a very primitive, manipulative way — when all is said and done… BUT the filmmaking is lazy, most of the characters and interaction have zero credibility, and there are many sequences that are downright laughable.

    For those of you who still don’t know where you’re gonna stand on this movie, think of it as a more playful version of Million Dollar Baby in which virtually all of the characters are pitched in the same ridiculous, cliche-ridden territory as Hillary Swank’s family in MDB. Yes, I still appreciated it for Eastwood’s character and his utterly predictable feel-good arc, but the movie has no depth or nuance whatsoever.

  • Chase Kahn

    No thanks…

  • drbob

    I’m also a big fan of A Perfect World. I’m still partial to Unforgiven, but A Perfect World is definitely underrated. Great performances from Costner, Dern, and Eastwood, himself.

  • Chase Kahn

    I second what JD just said — even though I haven’s seen it…that’s my fear going in and why I take all of these reviews with a grain of salt.

  • James Rocchi

    Gran Torino is good — not great — but good. If it were anyone else directing or starring, the script would have been thrown in the Memory Hole faster than you can say “Winston Smith.”

    Of course, — and I’m not putting this in my review, as it seems glib and mean, which makes it perfect for here — If the website “Stuff White People Like” had a “Stuff Old White Guys Like” spin-off — or, more appropriately, a “Stuff Old White Film Critic Guys Like” — Clint Eastwood would not only be in the hall of fame, but that Hall would, in fact, be shaped like his head.

  • EDouglas

    Yeah, but it’s like if Dirty Harry busted into “The Visitor” and started throwing racial slurs around before pulling out a gun and shooting the “Arab”

  • http://cinematicallycorrect.wordpress.com/ CinematicallyCorrect.com

    Poland’s reaction to this movie has been really shocking. I just don’t see how that many people that are loving Clint’s performance can be wrong?

    One question though…when the hell does this thing open in the real world?

  • lawnorder

    I’m sorry, but I’m one of the biggest Clint Eastwood fans in the world and I typically give him a pass on everything – but this film was subpar on almost every level – and I never agree with Poland’s taste on anything. Yes, it’s always fun to watch Clint do his squint-eyed, hard-ass thing, but he’s flailing here. The script is mediocre, cliched and cornball. The gang members never seem that formidable or that “real.” I felt like I was watching Charles Bronson in Death Wish III or IV. It’s so on the nose and 80-ish in execution that it fails horribly. The performances aside from Eastwood are terrible. That priest guy was just really, really bad and the young kid wasn’t up to the role. Don’t even get me started on the ending. The actual film craft behind Grand Torino is on a level of a film student. The lighting is horrible. The camera moves are boring (except for one decent steadicam shot around Clint near the beginning – that he seems to repeat throughout the film). I can’t believe the incredibly talented Tom Stern shot this thing – he obviously didn’t have enough time to make it quality. I think Clint knocked it out in 25 days and with banker’s hours. Not much time for craft there. I am the guy who gets the old school, tough guy films and crime thrillers and I was incredibly let down with this one. But, hey, everybody gets to decide for themselves. If they want to give Clint the sympathy Oscar for acting, it’ll be like giving Scorsese his Oscar for the Departed. Sorry, wrong film.

  • bmcintire

    “Either you get and cherish the Clint thing, or you don’t.” Aptly put. Why you think anyone should hang their head in shame for not drinking the same Kool-Aid as you is as mystifying as the “legend and mythology” of Clint Eastwood. I like some of his stuff, and some if it blows chunks – much like Spielberg’s output. I’m not going to feel bad about either. You took the same my-way-or-the-highway stance with TWILIGHT, and that thing sucked ass, teenage angsty zeitgeist or not.

    And I still want to know how far into the movie the dog bites it.

  • Nick Rogers

    Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. Did you really have to go and uncork that “under-30-need-not-apply” BS? That was the fallback argument of people who called and complained about my reviews when they lacked an articulate, specific argument. Not everyone in this generation is incapable of understanding the emotional components in stories about people older than them. You certainly have children capable of that. If you apply that same standard to yourself, “Twilight” should have been verboten to you. Please place that argument back under the rock you pulled it from and leave it there.

  • http://www.lytrules.com Luke Y. Thompson

    “if Dirty Harry busted into “The Visitor” and started throwing racial slurs around before pulling out a gun and shooting the “Arab””

    Had that happened, The Visitor would have been one of my favorite films of the year, rather than a so-so character piece about a white guy learning rhythm from yet another magical minority.

  • http://www.therecshow.com Ray

    So a film is considered “good” because it whips up nostalgic feelings about its star? This is the general problem with many Oscar wins; rather than award the best performance/film, the awards go to those most favored as people.

    I think I agree with JD’s perspective the most.

  • byanyother

    “Either you get and cherish the Clint thing, or you don’t get and cherish the Clint thing. ”

    Sorry, not true. Glad you liked it but you can’t really fix what’s wrong with the movie by patching it up with Clint mythology.

  • p.Vice

    Once again Jeffrey’s post is in need of some truth interpretation:

    WELLS: “straight, unpretentious…okay, a tiny bit hokey-here-and-there”

    TRANSLATION: It’s an indefensibly lurid corn festival. I can’t possibly justify this to anyone under the age of 75, so I’m going to ignore it and concentrate on selling you a different film than the one I actually saw in hopes that Warner Bros. will put me back on their screening list.

    WELLS: “lightly comedic racial-relationship drama”

    TRANSLATION: Gook and other racial slurs are overused as a cheap and obvious way to try and make the film seem more important than it really is, to the point where it’s howlingly funny to hear Clint grumble it over and over.

    WELLS: “Old-guy angst, doubt, warmth, uncertainty, fear-of-death, fear-of-life, family– the whole magillah. What’s to dislike?”

    TRANSLATION: The movie really isn’t about anything so it just throws as much as it can against the wall to see what’ll stick.

    WELLS: “doddering Dirty Harry vs. evil-ass gangbangers conflict piece”

    TRANSLATION: Should’ve been directed by Buddy Van Horn.

    WELLS: “slight little shafts of light in as he deals with and talks to others. ”

    TRANSLATION: Clint’s playing the same gruff-to-sentimental character routine he’s beaten to death in the last 20 years of his career.

    WELLS: “Partly a gold-watch thing”

    TRANSLATION: He’ll be dead soon so say your respects while you’ve still got a chance.

  • D.Z.

    vice: Couldn’t help chuckle at your “analysis”. Anyway, haven’t seen the movie, but those gangs don’t look so formidable. They look like the punks who TP people’s houses, really.

  • http://www.lytrules.com LYT

    “if Dirty Harry busted into “The Visitor” and started throwing racial slurs around before pulling out a gun and shooting the “Arab””

    Had that happened, The Visitor would have been one of my favorite films of the year, rather than a so-so character piece about a white guy learning rhythm from yet another magical minority.

  • JaySmack

    Jeff, you’re simply wrong.

  • BurmaShave

    He should have won Best Actor back in 93 for IN THE LINE OF FIRE. He was damn fine in that, and it was the quintessential Eastwood performance, and it would have made up for not giving it to him for Will Munny. Then we wouldn’t be in this position now where it seems he may take it away from someone like Rourke or Penn.

  • dangovich

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  • bmcintire

    The pants thing – is that a character choice or is Clint now sporting a waistline where his ribcage ends? You’d normally have to go to an Old Country Buffet at the 4 PM “Senior Rush” to see trousers hiked that high.

  • dangovich

    Clint’s pants were already pretty high in “Bridges of Madison County” (1995).

  • TVMCCA

    It’s safe to say that there will be a lot of Dirty Harry references when the official reviews of GRAN TORINO appear. But the Walt Kowalski character is at least partially reminiscent of Gunnery Sergeant Highway in HEARTBREAK RIDGE.

  • http://wendysreplica.com dd

    For those of you who still don’t know where you’re gonna stand on this movie, think of it as a more playful version of Million Dollar Baby in which virtually all of the characters are pitched in the same ridiculous, cliche-ridden territory as Hillary Swank’s family in MDB. Yes, I still appreciated it for Eastwood’s character and his utterly predictable feel-good arc, but the movie has no depth or nuance whatsoever.

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