him ASAP: Eastwood in Gran Torino.
Off His Lawn
by Clint Eastwood
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
If John McCain were half as convincing as Eastwood, he’d be
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
Passion of the Ram
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.
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
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.