Carly at the Movies | Sittin’ on the porch with good ol’ Clint
“Gran Torino,” still parked at the Mall over in Staunton, is a lovely fantasy for those of us who believe that good ol’ boy geezer-type white guy bigots can suddenly turn into tree-hugging rainbow coalition brotherhood-of-man do-the-right-thinging liberals.
Clint Eastwood stars as the aforementioned curmudgeon, a Dirty Harry who’s simply outlived his time and become a grumpy old man. He lives in a neighborhood that’s rapidly changing from shabby middle-class white folks to an ethnic mix that includes Blacks, Hispanics and Vietnamese.
He sits stoically on his front porch, drinking his cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon out of a picnic cooler, presumably waiting for the Good Old Days to come back. Strangely enough, they don’t, and “Make My Day” has turned to “Get Off My Lawn.”
A whole clan of Vietnamese move in next door, much to Clint’s dismay, and almost against his own wishes, he becomes gradually part of their lives. In a neighborly kinda way, of course. He bonds with them, reluctantly at first, and together they face the local Vietnamese street gang that wants to recruit the coming-of-age boy next door.
Make no mistake, this is a big-time movie, and looks like it’s going to end up as Clint’s biggest moneymaker of all time. It has clicked with American audiences, and in some areas even outdraws some of the mindless drivel that always fills 90 percent of our screens.
As an Old White Guy myself, I was all for Clint’s set of old-time ethics, even though I wasn’t quite satisfied with the way he solves the problem. In many ways, the film is reminiscent of the old “Death Wish” series, which featured tough guy Charles Bronson gunning down baddies and street gangbangers by the score.
(I was in NYC when “Death Wish” opened back in 1974, and people stood up and applauded and cheered in movie theaters there. Dare we suggest that, on rare occasions, a little vigilante justice might be, uh, justified?)
That’s the question that this film poses, and Eastwood manages to escape it in a clever way. But it lingers in the back of our minds, and you’ve just got to cheer for the old guy when, at one point, he whomps the puddin’ out of a few baddies.
Apparently, ol’ Clint is able to connect directly to the movie-watching public but not, in this case, to the giver-outers of major Oscar nominations. It’s up for 10 Academy Awards, but none in what we normally consider the “major” categories like Best Picture, Best Actor, etc.
Playing a grizzled old Korean War vet who’s lost his wife and clings to his 1972 Gran Torino (an automobile, for those of you who are not familiar with some of Detroit’s more outlandish offspring) just might provide the closure to the on-screen career that Clint’s been obviously seeking since “Unforgiven.” No matter what, we’ll benefit from his talents as I’m sure he’ll continue directing films, utilizing his uncanny knack of providing us just what we want: the sense that perhaps not everything has gone straight to hell.
Most of the supporting actors are not well-known to audiences, and many of the immigrants have never appeared on film before. Young Christopher Carley (no relation) does a nice job as a neighborhood Catholic priest trying to keep life and limb together, Bee Vang is thoughtful as the young boy courted by the evil gang, and Chee Thao plays the Vietnamese grandma with cheery dignity and a masters degree in long-distance spitting.
At the end, you are apt to leave the theater kind of wishing you could sit there awhile, in that seedy Detroit neighborhood, and have a beer with Clint.
Wouldn’t have to say much. Wouldn’t need to.
– Column by Carl Larsen