Gran Torino

(2009) Clint Eastwood.

granAn exhultation of Clint's forebrow, the Eastwood squint has arched itself like a vortex into a confounded snarl, lucidly baffled, staunch, wrathful and crackling under U.S. history of the last 50 years. It looms over the opening sequence, the funeral for the wife of Walt Kowalski, a Korean War vet and retired autoworker whose sense of the twilight hour is told in the language and humor of blue-collar beer-can front porch politics. Kowalski vows to stay in the neighborhood in which he has dwelled for 40 years (an economically devolved Michigan inner exurb), and where he is now a minority. Old Walt's new neighbor is a family of three generations of Hmong, a people inadvertently become refugees of the Vietnam War. There is a good eye rhyme between Kowalski and his Hmong equivalent: a grumpy granny who matches Kowalski's spit of tobacco juice from her rocking chair, each of them abject over the state of their legacy. Like any first generation U.S. neighborhood, Kowalski's is fraught by gang violence. The Blacks and Latinos fuck with the most recent influx, the Asians. But no matter the bloodline, Kowalski has a derogatory phrase for it, and offers a roster that is copious but at times clunky and redundant.

Is Clint pining for the old, sluggardly, barrel-chested times? Is he wistful over the phase-out of Kowalski's bygone, bigoted, grizzled attitudes regarding manhood, patriotism & ethnicity? Not so much. And, fairly (both to the movie and its ideas), what Clint sets up to succeed Kowalski's generation is not encouraging: Walt's lame-ass, Dubyaesque sons, and the hopelessly twatty Spears/Lohan granddaughter. In Million Dollar Baby, the “white trash” characters are stereotyped and overdone - limp melodrama. In Gran Torino, Clint's grown children are nouveau upper-middle class fathers of their own with fat necks and cheap values, and they weave into the story as do the contrived ethnic slurrage and car metaphors, picturesque as propaganda without being propaganda.

Clint is bent on the afterlife in death, an issue over which Kowalski haggles with young redhead Father Janovich, whom Kowalski both berates and befriends, both men following an oath to Kowalski's departed wife. For Clint the afterlife is film: for Kowalski it is the reckoning of everyday violence. The only gunslinging Clint performs is with his cocked finger-and-thumb pistol. He maintains his real guns as museum pieces. It would seem overblown to suggest the film is an elegy if Clint himself didn’t sing the title song over the end credits. Gran Torino harks back to at least a couple of Old Hollywood traditions: the pre-Code 30s, when ex-vaudevillian scenarists populized melodramatic Americana precedents to tell an edgy story; and of course the 1970s, when bone-crunching tough-guy operas reached a peak of both maturity and brutality. If one had to be a crotchety old racist middle-class codger, then one would want to be like Walt Kowalski.

. . . a secondary theme song of the movie might be Clint's folksy duet with Ray Charles recorded for the bareknuckle orangutang-sidekick comedy Any Which Way You Can. . .

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