[Marxism] NYT on Eastwood's GRAN TORINO: Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Dec 14 08:02:47 MST 2008

Saw this terrific new movie yesterday which just opened on Friday
here in Los Angeles. Eastwood plays an almost-stereotypically-drawn
curmudgeonly old racist auto-worker who is compelled by unwelcome
demographic shifts in his neighborhood, along with a certain innate
humanity buried under a life of regret for his role as a killer
during the Korean War, to confront his own racism and to ultimately
stand up for the rights of some of his new Detroit neighbors, Hmong
refugees. There is, of course, a very dramatic, violent denoument, as
we can see that there remain a big trace of Dirty Harry not far under
the surface of Eastwood's character, but it has a surprising twist.
People applauded in the Arclight theate when I saw the movie.

All the more poignant to see this kind of story as we look at the
prospective collapse of the US automobile industry. Clint Eastwood's
character was a long-time auto assembly-line worker who personally
installed the drive-shaft in the GRAN TORINO of the title which
plays a key role in the story. A very timely filmic delight.

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California

This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick 
by the film reviewers of The Times.
Gran Torino
Warner Bros. Pictures

Clint Eastwood portrays a retired, bigoted Detroit autoworker in "Gran Torino."
December 12, 2008
Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country

Published: December 12, 2008

Twice in the last decade, just as the holiday movie season has begun
to sag under the weight of its own bloat, full of noise and nonsense
signifying nothing, Clint Eastwood has slipped another film into
theaters and shown everyone how it’s done. This year’s model is “Gran
Torino,” a sleek, muscle car of a movie Made in the U.S.A., in that
industrial graveyard called Detroit. I’m not sure how he does it, but
I don’t want him to stop. Not because every film is great — though,
damn, many are — but because even the misfires show an urgent
engagement with the tougher, messier, bigger questions of American

Few Americans make movies about this country anymore, other than Mr.
Eastwood, a man whose vitality as an artist shows no signs of waning,
even in a nominally modest effort like “Gran Torino.” Part of this
may be generational: Mr. Eastwood started as an actor in the old
studio system, back when the major movie companies were still in the
business of American life rather than just international properties.
Hollywood made movies for export then, of course, but part of what it
exported was an idea of America as a democratic ideal, an idea of
greatness which, however blinkered and false and occasionally
freighted with pessimism, was persuasive simply because Gene Kelly
and John Wayne were persuasive.

While it’s easy to understand why the last eight years (or the last
50) have made it difficult to sell that idea to the world or even the
country, it’s dispiriting that so many movies are disconnected from
everyday experience, from economic worries to race. Pauline Kael used
to beat up on Stanley Kramer, the director of earnest middlebrow
entertainments like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” but at least
these movies had a connection to real life or an idea about it. 
Ms. Kael also famously branded Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry” as “deeply
immoral,” even fascistic, but the film became a classic because of
its ambiguous engagement with American violence and masculinity. 
Mr. Eastwood and a .44 Magnum did their bit too.

Dirty Harry is back, in a way, in “Gran Torino,” not as a character
but as a ghostly presence. He hovers in the film, in its themes and
high-caliber imagery, and of course most obviously in Mr. Eastwood’s
face. It is a monumental face now, so puckered and pleated that it no
longer looks merely weathered, as it has for decades, but seems
closer to petrified wood. Words like flinty and steely come to mind,
adjectives that Mr. Eastwood, in his performance as Walt Kowalski,
expressively embodies with his usual lack of fuss and a number of
growls. A former auto worker at Ford, Walt has just put his longtime
wife in the ground when the story opens. From his scowl, it looks as
if he would like to join her.

Instead he sits on his front porch chugging can after can of cheap
beer in the company of his yellow Labrador, Daisy, watching the world
at a safe distance with a squint and a stream of bitter commentary.
Kept at bay, the remaining members of his family — including two sons
with big houses, big cars, big waistlines — have no choice but to let
him stew alone. Yet the rest of the world refuses to leave Walt be,
despite his best efforts and grimace. The world first creeps into his
peripheral vision, where a family of Hmong immigrants live in the
rundown house next door; and then, through a series of unfortunate
events, some artful and others creaking with scripted contrivance, it
stages a life-altering home invasion.

Written by a newcomer, Nick Schenk, the story eases into gear with an
act of desperation.Under violent threat from some Hmong gangbangers,
the next-door neighbor’s teenage son, Thao (Bee Vang), tries and
fails to steal Walt’s cherry 1972 Gran Torino, and in the bargain
nearly loses his life to its angry, armed owner. Thao’s family, led
by his mouthy, friendly sister, Sue (a very good Ahney Her), forces
the teenager to do penance by working for Walt, an arrangement that
pleases neither the man nor the boy. No one seems a more unlikely (or
reluctant) father surrogate than Walt, a foulmouthed bigot with an
unprintable epithet for every imaginable racial and ethnic group.
Growling — often literally, “Grr, grr” — he resists the family’s
overtures like a man under siege, walled in by years of suspicion,
prejudice and habit.

Walt assumes his protector role gradually, a transformation that at
first plays in an often broadly comic key. Mr. Eastwood’s loose, at
times very funny performance in the early part of the film is one of
its great pleasures. While some of this enjoyment can be likened to
spending time with an old friend, Mr. Eastwood is also an adept
director of his own performances and, perhaps more important, a canny
manipulator of his own iconographic presence. He knows that when
we’re looking at him, we’re also seeing Dirty Harry and the Man With
No Name and all his other outlaws and avenging angels who have roamed
across the screen for the last half-century. All these are embedded
in his every furrow and gesture.

These spectral figures, totems of masculinity and mementos from a
heroic cinematic age, are what make this unassuming film — small in
scale if not in the scope of its ideas — more than just a vendetta
flick or an entertainment about a crazy coot and the exotic strangers
next door. As the story unfolds and the gangbangers return and Walt
reaches for his gun, the film moves from comedy into drama and then
tragedy and then into something completely unexpected. We’ve seen
this western before, though not quite. Because this isn’t John Wayne
near the end of the 20th century, but Clint Eastwood at the start of
the still-new 21st, remaking the image of the hero for one more and
perhaps final time, one generation of Americans making way for the

That probably sounds heavier than I mean, but “Gran Torino” doesn’t
go down lightly. Despite all the jokes — the scenes of Walt lighting
up at female flattery and scrambling for Hmong delicacies — the film
has the feel of a requiem. Melancholy is etched in every long shot of
Detroit’s decimated, emptied streets and in the faces of those who
remain to still walk in them. Made in the 1960s and ’70s, the Gran
Torino was never a great symbol of American automotive might, which
makes Walt’s love for the car more poignant. It was made by an
industry that now barely makes cars, in a city that hardly works, in
a country that too often has felt recently as if it can’t do anything
right anymore except, every so often, make a movie like this one.

“Gran Torino” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or
adult guardian). The film has some exceedingly foul language, a great
many racist slurs and bloody violence.


Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Nick Schenk, based on a story
by Dave Johannson and Mr. Schenk; director of photography, Tom Stern;
edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and
Michael Stevens; production designer, James J. Murakami; produced by
Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz and Bill Gerber; released by Warner
Brothers Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.

WITH: Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Bee Vang (Thao Lor), Ahney Her
(Sue Lor) and Christopher Carley (Father Janovich).

     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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