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Hope for a Racist, and Maybe a Country

GRAN TORINO NYT Critics Pick By MANOHLA DARGIS DEC. 11, 2008

Clint Eastwood portrays a retired, bigoted Detroit autoworker in "Gran Torino."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures


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 life.


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 [...]


Read the full article in the New York Times HERE