FT : Game, Set, Match To Eastwood For “Gran Torino”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The fanciful warrant of an actor’s talent has long been his ability to read the telephone book: a great actor will sound it forth like Sophocles or Shakespeare.  By that measure Clint Eastwood is now up there with Garrick, Bernhardt and Olivier.  In early scenes of the deliriously enjoyable Gran Torino – a clever, immaculately structured, wryly raw comedy-drama about racism, gang war and redemption – Eastwood has little to do but alternate between pronouncing names and calling them.  He apostrophises people first, insults them soon after (or vice versa), in an ageing widower’s one-man campaign to resist détente with his family, his Catholic priest and, above all, his Hmong neighbours.  This tribal diaspora from south-east Asia – the Hmong from Laos, Cambodia and other countries won refugee status after fighting alongside the US in the Vietnam war – is now encircling Eastwood’s house.  The Korean War veteran’s brick-and-wood homestead, with his vintage Gran Torino nestling proudly in the garage, stands out amid untended clapboard neighbours noisy with extended-family conviviality and incomprehensible tongues.  Cranky old Clint, who has an unnamed life-threatening disease (presumably cancer), is troubled of lung and toxic of tongue.  When the neighbours come too close, he goes “Nngghhh”, a low noise like a teeth-baring mutt.  If he has to address them, he calls them “Ding Dong” or “Charlie Chan”.  When they invite him to a barbecue he refuses, adding: “And keep your hands off my dog.” F inally he takes a small shine to the next-door son Thao (Bee Vang), only because a greater xenophobia – aversion to the Asian street gangs trying to recruit the boy – conquers a lesser.  Walt Kowalski is Dirty Harry gone mangy, even rabid.  But Harry’s saving gracelessness was his ability to shut people up who needed shutting up.  We know Walt will do the same: the twist in Nick Schenk’s debut script is how.  Gran Torino has a startling end, ingeniously giving each spectator the different satisfaction he might want.  He can hiss the baddies.  He can giggle at racist abuse (disapprovingly, of course).  He can even cheer as another Clint hero reaches for another gun whose magnitude is surplus to purpose.  But finally his smile is wiped, leaving a deeper, interior grin that combines satisfaction with a pinch of stupefaction. 

What is there left to say about Eastwood the actor?  In his first role since Million Dollar Baby, and after threats to retire, he is more hypnotic than everA geological history as complex as Vesuvius seems to lie beneath those cracked, striated features, with their smoke-puff of white hair and the pyroclastic glimmer of their eyes.  The voice is a sandpaper rasp, barely now even a whisper, but he knows how to make words scald or sting.  He can put the “bitch” into “obituary” (even when it isn’t there); he can leave plainspoken wisdoms dinning in our heads as if they were scripted by Tolstoy.  Someone says, of Walt’s Korean war traumas, that it’s terrible what men are ordered to do.  Eastwood, summing up his character and hinting at his hero’s back story, replies with perfect pace and aim: “The thing that haunts a man most is what he isn’t ordered to do.”  Game, set and match.  We barely see the ball pass us before it hits the baseline, but Gran Torino has proved itself another effortless Eastwood Grand Slam victory.

Reference : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1e2a57e4-fdd0-11dd-932e-000077b07658.html

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