"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Ain’t it Gran?



Clint Eastwood is a throwback in the best possible sense. He is a product of the old Hollywood and he works–a pro’s pro.  Like John Huston, he’s one of the rare directors who continue to make good movies late into their career. 

In his latest film, the winning and often subtle melodrama, Gran Torino, Eastwood pulls off a neat trick. He plays a variation of his Dirty Harry persona without lapsing into camp. He knows the audience is aware that they are looking at Eastwood the Icon, but like an old fashioned movies star (Spency Tracy or Bogart come to mind), he doesn’t let that trip him up. He’s able to play off his previous tough guy roles with a great deal of humor but without sacrificing the credibility of this character or the movie. He’s completely believable and authentic.

And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Eastwood ever look more physically relaxed as an actor. He moves with sure, unhurried confidence. I used to find his acting empty and hollow.  I never got the joke, or if I did, never really appreciated it. But now there is a complexity and warmth to his acting.  The grunts and mumbles are used to great effect.

Gran Torino isn’t as heavy or somber as Mystic River though it is often a sad, melancholy film.  But I think it is more satisfying.  Eastwood’s direction is fresh–I wouldn’t say playful exactly, but it is loose.   There is nothing stodgy about it.  In fact, there is a quiet joy about the filmmaking here. Almost everything is underplayed. There are a few missteps–some of the actors seem to be amateurs and they come up short in a few scattered scenes (though on the whole they are endearing), and Eastwood himself sings over the final credits, and sounds vaguely like Fozzie Bear–but they are minor.

I expected to enjoy Gran Torino but I wound up liking it even more than that. It’s not a big movie, but it is an fine entertainment, made with a sly sense of humor and an open heart.  This is Eastwood at the top of his game.

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1 Tom_Fishman   ~  Dec 31, 2008 12:37 am

Alex, I think your movie reviews are usually really on point, but I have to respectfully disagree on this one. I thought the screenplay for Gran Torino was just awful. It's partly that I have an aversion to poorly executed gangsta' talk. I think what you attribute to amateurish acting can partly be blamed on the script. And with a performance consisting mainly of growls, spitting, and churlish faces, Eastwood himself seems pretty content to coast by on iconic status alone.

I agree that the style of film making here is pleasing, but I think this is Eastwood at his most middling.

But hey, opinions are like assholes, right?

2 Jon Weisman   ~  Dec 31, 2008 12:52 am

I didn't think the film was awful, but when you wrote "often subtle," I did a double-take, since my predominant feeling was how heavy-handed and not "underplayed" it was.

It was a decent movie, but not the tops...

3 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 31, 2008 8:49 am

You know, after thinking about it more, the script is very mapped out, obvious really. But I kept expecting it to end up with a Dirty Harry revenge scenerio and it didn't. And the visual symbolism was obvious at times too, but for whatever reason, didn't strike me as overbearing.

4 matt b   ~  Dec 31, 2008 1:24 pm

I still haven't seen it, though it's tops on my list. Eastwood has been on my mind lately. His career is truly astonishing. He started Malpaso as soon as he had any traction in the industry (after the Leone films). It seems to me few figures in film history have been as ambitious and smart while having such a keen understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. I find even many of his directiorial misses (e.g. Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart) still have a lot to recommend them. He'd be cinema royalty as either a standalone star or director, that he's both pushes him into really rarified company as a movie icon. I mean, Charles Chaplin type company.

5 The Mick536   ~  Jan 2, 2009 12:11 pm

We have been in the midst of a Clint festival. Watched GBU, Fistfull, Hogan's Heroes (vastly underrated), Blood Work (bad), Play Misty (should be carried as a noire), and something else. Cannot get enough of him.

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