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PBR him ASAP: Eastwood in Gran Torino.

Get Off His Lawn

By Shawn Stone

Gran Torino

Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

Get off my lawn.” It’s the new “Make my day,” this tagline from Clint Eastwood’s new gritty-but-sentimental drama. Hurled, through clenched teeth, at Hmong gangsters fighting on his perfectly groomed square of lawn in a mangy Detroit suburb, it’s the law-abiding old America raging against the lawless immigrants.

If John McCain were half as convincing as Eastwood, he’d be president.

It makes sense that, after revisiting his Man With No Name persona in Unforgiven, Eastwood eventually would get around to “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Though he indicated after Million Dollar Baby that he wouldn’t act again, Clint couldn’t resist playing Gran Torino’s gruff, racist, lovable, retired auto worker, Walt Kowalski. Walt’s background is actually more Archie Bunker than supercop, but he’s got an assault rifle Dirty Harry would be delighted to use to mow down a gang of punks. And, like Harry, Walt is an equal-opportunity hater: He hates the Hmong (immigrants from Southeast Asia) who have taken over his block; he hates the Latinos; he hates the blacks; and he hates his own family. In the last case, the audience can’t help but share Walt’s revulsion.

When Thao (Bee Vang), the Hmong teen next door, tries to steal Walt’s prize 1971 Ford Gran Torino (“I put the steering column in myself,” ex-line worker Walt says at one point), he is caught and amends must be made. Also, when Walt pulls his big gun on those gangbangers, Thao’s family feels obligated to the mean old bastard.

Thao’s kind of a shlub, but his sister, Sue (Ahney Her), charms Walt through sheer determination. It helps that Walt’s own granddaughter is a typically selfish, useless American teenager; this immigrant girl at least respects her elders.

Most of the conflict is of the culture-clash variety: There are so many ethnic slurs flying around you might think you’re watching a Tarantino flick. But the old Polish coot and the Asian newcomers begin to respect each other, and, once in a while, Walt has to draw a gun on some young punk. It’s old school stuff, thoroughly enjoyable.

Eastwood growls his way through the entire picture. If you like that sort of thing (as I do), you’ll like Gran Torino. The young actors are appealing, and there’s even a carrot-topped Catholic priest (Christopher Carley, who looks about 12 years old) for Walt to insult. (One of the film’s funniest scenes is when Walt finally goes to confession. When the priest is surprised that he has so few sins, Walt becomes indignant.)

The film takes an inevitably somber turn—you pull a rifle of mass destruction in act one, it’s gotta go off in the last act—but filmmaker Eastwood handles this transition masterfully. As in Unforgiven, there is violence, and violence has consequences. If Gran Torino takes a different view of how to deal with killing than the earlier film, it’s because Detroit—America—isn’t the Wild West. And that’s a point worth making.

The Passion of the Ram

The Wrestler

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

If there’s one filmmaker working today who’s not shy about letting his masochistic streak fly unfettered onscreen, it’s Darren Aronofsky. Excepting his sci-fi epic The Fountain (in which the madness lies in a wildly fractured narrative), the director specializes in examining characters that simply cannot help themselves, that push themselves to the edge and boldly beyond at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to have floated into their wake. The deluded addicts of Requiem for a Dream and the paranoid numerologist of Pi have much in common. There’s a particular madness that drives these characters; one can only imagine what would have happened if Aronofsky had gotten hold of the Batman franchise.

Actually, it might have ended up something like The Wrestler. What would be more interesting than having a look at a down-and-out Caped Crusader 20 years later? Or . . . no.

The Wrestler is essentially a simple character study, with body slams. Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a former wrestling megastar who now pays the bills (barely) by stocking shelves in a supermarket, and doing exhibition matches around New Jersey on weekends. He’d like to reclaim his old glory, but he’s broken and battered, a lion tamed by reading glasses and a hearing aid, living in a trailer and driving a beaten old van (Dodge Ram, naturally). When he’s not signing autographs for his few remaining fans or playing Nintendo with the kids in the trailer park, he’s making nice with a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who, like Randy, is a bit past her prime. (At least that’s what the nasty patrons in her first scene would have us think: Tomei, naked for about half her screen time, is in damn fine shape.)

When Randy has bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack, he enters into a reflective mood; for a guy who’s made his living shirtless, that nasty scar is quite humbling. He looks around and realizes how alone he is—the filmmaker points to this at every turn, whether he’s in an empty parking lot or jogging in the woods—so he attempts to forge a relationship with Cassidy and reconcile with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Needless to say, this wouldn’t be an Aronofsky project if it had a happy ending.

As a character examination, The Wrestler is a bit flawed—we know that Randy is willing to push himself to the limit for the sake of the show, but the only backstory provided is that he was the star of Wrestle Jam III. And, typical for an Aronofsky film, it’s filled with “Don’t do it, don’t do it . . . damn, he did it!” moments—even in the storytelling. For instance, when Tomei references The Passion of the Christ, Aronofsky can’t help but follow with a bloody, borderline comical exhibition. To say the director lacks subtlety is an understatement; each of the plot points is delivered like a “ram jam” to the skull. (The hand-held camera work, while distracting, actually does serve to give the film a sense of intimacy.)

All that aside, this is one of those films where the lead performance absolutely makes the picture. Rourke is out-fucking-standing as Randy the Ram—much like Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, he completely loses himself in the part, to the point where he becomes unrecognizable. His physical transformation is remarkable, but he also has a deep connection with the character’s emotional core. Tomei is excellent, Wood is excellent, but Rourke is transcendent. His performance alone boosts this OK film to a must-see.

—John Brodeur


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