Saturday, January 24, 2009

GRAN TORINO: An Old Man's Strength.

As you may remember from one of my earlier "Trailer Time" segments, I really liked the trailer for GRAN TORINO, Clint Eastwood's lastest starring role, which he also directed, but I have to admit; it had me fooled. As good as the trailer looked, I just couldn't get myself on board with the idea of seeing what seemed like it would amount to an artsy DEATH WISH-esque movie; a grisled old man, hardened by a long, difficult, life gets crossed by some punk-ass wannabe gangsta's and sets out to get himself some sweet, violent, vigilante justice. I'm no prude. I like a violent revenge movie just as much as the next guy, but being afflicted by a case of the winter blah's and current events (Re: the shooting at Osgoode station is just a little to close to home) really just doesn't leave me in the mood to glorify murder, no matter how righteous or justified it might be. But providence left me with no choice but to watch GRAN TORINO tonight, which I planned on doing eventually anyways, and I was shocked to find that this movie was not what I was lead to believe at all.

Let's face it: Clint Eastwood knows how to direct a fucking movie. GRAN TORINO, from the first few seconds to the last word to roll off the credit's, is just a masterfully crafted piece of storytelling. Without having to even speak a single word, you know everything about Eastwood's character by the end of the first scene, as he reacts to the things around him, so by the time he does speak, he doesn't have to waste any time on pointless exposition, or bullshit movie dialouge meant to convey information to the audience that the people speaking it would otherwise have no need to say in reality, and reality is the word of the day for GRAN TORINO. Everything about the movie feels genuine and real. There's nothing staged or over dramatic. Even the way the camera is set up has a matter-of-fact attitude about it. There's no elaborate crane shots or extreme angles; it's just where it needs to be to tell a story. That's not to say that the movie doesn't look good; the framing and use of lighting to sell the mood or heighten drama makes some scenes feel like painting in their quiet, subtle, beauty.

Beyond this, though, Eastwood isn't afraid to confront some tough issues, such as selfishness, the generation gap, racism, gang violence, and just general violence as a means to an end, but not in such a way as to appear preachy or to make the audience purposely uncomfortable; quite the opposite, I was surprised by how many outbursts of laughter the movie provoked, with it's wry and ironic sense of humor and straight forward delivery, illustrating the difference between blind hatred and ignorance, and how knowledge and understanding can overcome a lifetime of preconceptions and bad habits.

But aside from those issues, the movie has a great humanity to it. Eastwood portrays a stubborn man, a man trying to be strong in the face of lose, now left alone with nothing but his regrets. He feels the world start to pass him by and fears what comes next, but is too proud to confide those fears in anyone. Then we have a boy desperately seeking his identity, afraid of what the future holds for him, and in danger of being swallowed up by the world around him. Violence brings them together, and then tears them apart, and in the movies final, climactic, scene, you see what a true hero is willing to sacrifice to give the people he's come to identify and sympathize with a chance to make a future for themselves.

GRAN TORINO is a complex but entertaining movie, masterfully directed, with a memorable performance by one of Hollywood's true greats, on and off the camera, that defied my expectations. I was expecting a good movie, and instead I got a GREAT one. A movie that combines subtlety with straightforwardness, and filled with great humanity.

On a side note, GRAN TORINO is also significant in that I can now add it to the short list of movies that have actually brought a tear to my eye. What can I say? It unmanned me.