Monday, January 12, 2009

Ok, so I'm fickle - my new favorite movie of 2008 - Gran Torino

I know, I know - less than two weeks ago I was raving about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and how great Brad Pitt was. Well I've changed my mind. Mike and I went off yesterday to see Gran Torino - and we both loved it. This in itself is a rarity when you consider that he refuses to see musicals because they're unrealistic and I've now seen Mamma Mia four times,and own both the DVD and the CD. But we did love it. And on a lot of different levels.

The movie opens at the funeral of Walt Kowalski's beloved wife. The pain on Clint Eastwood's face, the rage he feels at the death of his wife and the apparent disrespect of his grandchildren is palpable and breathtaking. Even a shot as siimple as the family lined up in the pew, with Walt putting several feet between himself and his closely clustered sons and daughters in law, tells you how isolated and angry this man has become through this loss. As estranged as he is from his family, Walt has also become estranged from his neighborhood, one of the few remaining old timers on a street of Hmong immigrants and their American born children. And then the trouble starts.

A gang is harassing both the neighbor's son and Walt himself. The son is relatively defenseless but not Walt. He still has his guns from Korea and he knows how to use them. Through one simple act Walt becomes a hero to the Hmong people and to his neighbors who take him under their wing and make him family.

I won't ruin it by saying anymore - everything above is fairly apparent in the TV commercials I saw for this movie. What makes it so great is Clint Eastwood and his face. That is a face that has lived. In an era where movie stars have botoxed every expression off their face (see Nicole Kidman) or distorted themselves with unnecessary plastic surgury (see Meg Ryan if you can bear to look for more than a few secords), Clint Eastwood's face is the most expressive I've seen. He rages, he threatens and on rare occasions he smiles - and it is just mesmerizing. All this is enhanced by a career spanning 50 years - all those times he said go ahead make my day and do you feel lucky are there in the back of your mind. Walt is not someone you screw around with, and everyone knows it.

Now I will warn, his character is a bigot - though one scene does explain that it is a form of masculinity to spout bigoted crap. In fact at one point all I could think is that he is the most loveable bigot since Archie Bunker - the bigot with a heart of gold.

So, I loved this movie. It also spoke to me, I think, because growing up my grandparents lived in the same sort of blue collar neighborhood in Orange New Jersey. Like Walt's neighborhood it gradually changed and devolved into a much more dangerous place with gangs and drug dealers on the corner. I haven't been back to that neighborhood in over 20 years but I got the feeling that I was seeing that old neighborhood while I was watching this movie.

As a footnote - I watched the Golden Globes last night and was horrified to see that Gran Torino was not nominated in any of the major categories. That Clint was excluded and pretty boy Leondardo DiCaprio was nominated was horrifying to me. I'm hoping that much like Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino runs over some of these pretty boys and makes it all the way to the Oscar.

My review: See it, take all your friends to see it.