So, we went to see Gran Torino tonight. It is certainly a film of meticulously constructed meaning. Well done, Clint, one wants to say, even though the ending was kind of coming at you right from the beginning. In physical combat, boxing, kumite, free-fighting, call it what you will, it is called telegraphing. It’s the equivalent of your opponent telling you, I am going to hook you with the left, giving you ten seconds to prepare and then hooking you with the left. It’s just never going to hurt, because he is never even going to get close to you, unless you are unbelievably determined to get hooked with the left.
In Gran Torino, all “my name is Mr Kowalski” does, is prepare for the end of the film. Although this is how films are constructed, the writer and director usually tries to hide the details of the end as long as possible. If you can see how the film is going to end from the beginning without it being Romeo and Juliet (or ANYTHING famous by Shakespeare or Henry James or some old dead fellow) then the filmmakers, usually, have a problem.
Every single relationship in the film is forged in solely in order to make the end meaningful. There are no surprises, and very little feeling. And absolutely nothing that is original. We meet Walt Kowalski at the funeral of his beloved wife (“the best woman in the world”). He is a grumpy old man, and alienated from his family. Unusual, I know.
Then, for No Reason Whatsoever, towards the end of the first act, the oldest son and his wife come with gifts (all indicating their concern for his advanced age, which is kind of funny) on Walt’s birthday, and try to convince him to go into a “nice place, like a hotel.” WTF? What for? To show that they do not understand him? To indicate that they want the house? You never see them needing the house, and anyway, the house is in an area where all the “Americans” have moved out of, according to the sour-puss octogenarian Hmong neighbour-woman. It’s a piece of shit neighbourhood, full of immigrants and gangs of all sorts of colours except white.
The non-gang immigrants are constantly gathering in large numbers with lavish quantities of absolutely delicious home-cooked food. They have, unlike Clint whose dull offspring produced dull offspring in return, strong family traditions that are rooted in history and that are reflected in the deep love and respect they demonstrate for each other.
One has the notion that the script originally had Walt living in a Mexican neighbourhood, but then Clint said to the Nick the writer, you know, that really has been done before… the xenophobic Vietnam vet, living next to immigrants, then he helps them, then he is accepted into the community, and then he is absolved. Wow, Clint, Nick could have said. Your are SO RIGHT. Let’s make the neighbours… hmm… some culture nobody knows about… I know! Hmong! And then the pro-ta-go-nist can be a KOREAN war vet. It’s perfect!
Done! Clint could have said. Great thinking! And in this way, we can also raise awareness of this culture… where it is RUDE, for example, to touch ANYBODY on the head! Are we hearing those famous five little words…?
Other, more colourful clichés include the loud music pumping through open windows of the gang’s car, the one fat, very mean gang member, and the neighbourhood barber with whom Walt happily exchanges gruesome cultural insults and expletives.
Oh Clint. The film is dreary. I am not only disappointed… I am also quite puzzled. If anybody knows how to squeeze an extra couple of hot salty tears from a girl when she really thinks it’s not possible to cry ANY MORE, it would be our friend Clint. I cried almost as much at the end of Million Dollar Baby as I did in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. But Gran Torino moved me not.
Jann was weeping of course, she is the ONLY person I know who cries more easily in a movie than I do. I mean, honestly, there is no reason to cry. The whole thing is horribly on-the-nose. In the film, the great American multicultural neighbourhood is populated quite methodically. The barber is Italian, the builder, Irish. The gangs are Hispanic, black, and Asian (Hmong). It really is perfectly proportioned.
And slow. Holy crap, any slower and it would have shuddered to a halt shortly after the beginning of the final act. If I was not so well conditioned not to miss even a single frame of cinema, unless I was going to abandon it altogether (and that takes a lot… I sat through Hostel in its entirety, and that film was a complete shocker) I would have gone out for some extra pop-corn or something. Just to see if it was possible to miss something important.
Gran Torino was, in spite of all this, a critical success, and Clint’s most lucrative film. It has taken, so far, more than $246 million at box offices worldwide. Whatever problems the filmmakers had, it clearly did not prevent them from propping up a bank or two during the credit crunch. I don’t get it. Un-be-lievable.