Film Rec: Gran Torino (2008)

It's that time of the year, folks. When I fall down at every opportunity and destroy all of my good clothing due to ice. I've been topped this time: my uncle, a mailman of many years, fell on a patch of ice and shattered his wrist. It only took the hospital 9 days to schedule his surgery. Film Rec: Gran Torino As far as I'm concerned, Gran Torino is the best American film of 2008. Say what you will about the supporting cast or Eastwood himself. I've heard it already and probably worse than you can imagine. I've been called a racist, an idiot, and Joe Six-pack for declaring it my top film. And I'm fine with that. If loving a film with a screenplay this strong is wrong, I don't want to be right. You might now Gran Torino as that film where Clint Eastwood shoots off racist remarks and yells at people to get off his lawn. And, if that's all you think it is, you are mistaken. Gran Torino is a moving study of a man, Walt, living in a world that no longer understands him. He's a grandfather who everyone believes is incapable of caring for himself due to his age. He's the last white person in his now ethnically diverse neighborhood. And he's a Korean War veteran who is haunted by demons of a much more personal nature. So, yes, he does yell at people to get off his lawn. It just happens to be the most powerful scene in a film this year and is edited in such a way for the trailer it almost seems absurd. Take into consideration that he is threatening a gang that tried to steal his car in an initiation ritual and are threatening to kill him for objecting to the act. Now add in how this gang is comprised of lost Hmong youth who would rather kill their own kind than let another young man have a chance at a decent future. Toss in the references to gang warfare with other cultural groups that are trying to wipe each other off the map. And end on the notion that this man is trying to protect the country he fought for and is more devoted to than his own family. Now: does "Get off my lawn" seem as ridiculous as it did before? And that's just the beginning of the film. Eastwood slowly ratchets up the tension through his character's relationship with the new parish priest, attempting to get fulfill Walt's wife's last wish of bringing Walt back to the church. Or Walt's family's disregard for anything that doesn't result in more money brought to their lives. Or Walt helping to build up a weak young man into someone capable of surviving in society. All of this would easily tilt to melodrama if Eastwood didn't make it a comedy. The situation is absurd not because that is the reality, but because Walt views his life this way. This a man who would rather sit on his deck with a cooler full of beer each day and not speak to anyone. His new neighbors and growing cultural community force him to break free from this by finally showing Walt some respect. When the film finally shifts to the drama you would expect from an Eastwood film, it's all the more powerful for taking the longer route. There are moments that could have been milked that are casually picked up and put back down like a photograph on a shelf. And there are incidental moments that are constantly pushed to the forefront to shift the dynamics in the film. There are some people who will never admit they like this film, and that's fine, too. For some, it's because Million Dollar Baby was so successful. Others just don't like older film styles. And still others will hate it because they refuse to admit they could enjoy a straightforward film without a big twist or Hollywood flash. Fine. I just recommend that people give this one a chance.

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Book Rec: Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth by Adrienne Rich