Monday, 30 March 2009

Grand Auto Theft Torino

I've seen more than a few Clint Eastwood films, but I don't recall him dying in one. Even in the preposterous Where Eagles Dare, he blasts his way out of danger with effortless ease.

The closest I remember him coming to a bloody end is in Play Misty For Me, his first feature film as a director. More of which later.

Tonight I watched Clint Eastwood die. In Gran Torino he even plays dead in an open casket, as though to remind his fans all men are mortal and that even the brightest Hollywood stars must, like chimney sweepers, come to dust.

Some reviwers gave the film four or five stars and raved about its anti-racist message. Suckers. The worthiness of a film's social statement does not make it great. D W Griffiths reputedly portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a sympathetic light in Birth of a Nation, but those who know about these things still claim greatness for the film, contentious though that is.

Gran Torino is too deeply flawed in its story-line, character development and acting to be anything other than interesting and occasionally funny. There is a surprise in the manner of Mr Eastwood's demise, but without him the film would be a pile of doo-doo.

I speak as a cinema-goer not as a movie-critic. I always start out wanting to like what I watch. Hell, I'm sixty years old, I don't have time and eyesight to waste on shite, as they say in the boon docks.

Clint Eastwood's grumpy old bastard Walter Kowalski, who growls before he speaks, is the film's only interesting character; the others are there merely to serve the plot which takes several misleading directions.

For example, the callow Asian kid Walter befriends and tries to 'man up' doesn't do anything to justify this rites of passage theme. The priest, who looks like Mick Hucknall in the early days of Simply Red, remains callow in spite of the one scene in which, after the gang rape of a girl, he comes close to embracing the eye-for-an-eye values of the recalcitrant Walter. Walter's two sons and their families are cameo caricatures, even though he confesses that his lack of fatherly love for them has troubled him for most of his life.

As for the big finale, that's a rewrite (with a twist) of The Shootist, John Wayne's farewell to arms in which he plays John B Books, a dying gunman in need of an exit strategy. In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood is a dying Korean War veteran in need of a conscience-salving exit strategy. The difference is that Books takes the town's bastards with him.

The Shootist is a damn near perfect movie by Don Siegel - a much more poignant and poetic film than Sam Peckinpah's overblown The Wild Bunch. Siegel, who made Dirty Harry, was greatly admired by Eastwood, as can be seen in Play Misty For Me.

I watch The Shootist at least once a year, and I watch Play Misty For Me whenever it is on television, partly because I dislike Clint's self-admiring DJ character so much, ditto his girlfriend 'Toby'. Gran Torino, however, is no match for either film. It's no match for Changeling either, Clint's previous.