Posts Tagged ‘Clint Eastwood’

Eastwood grapples with culture and violence in his moving ‘Gran Torino’

January 18, 2013

Two deaths bracket the 2008 movie Gran Torino, which stars and was directed by Clint Eastwood. Of the second, I shall say little to nothing other than that, like the first, it personally affects Eastwood’s character.

But the man at the beginning of the movie and the one at the end are, if you’ll forgive my pun, very different characters. As the film opens, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) stands in a Catholic church by the casket of his dead wife. The stone-faced retired automobile factory worker strains to hold back a contemptuous growl as his grandchildren — one clad in a Detroit Lions football jersey, another in a midriff-baring top — casually approach their pew and cross themselves with varying degrees of sincerity and mockery. When Father Janovich, a rosy-cheeked young priest, begins his homily, Kowalski scarcely chokes back a derisive snort.

A wake follows at Kowalski’s home. But while the house is packed with people, Kowalski hardly seems to notice the company. He callously dismisses Janovich’s attempt at conversation, his granddaughter’s offer to help him with a minor chore, and a neighbor’s request for jump cable.

The young neighbor Kowalski barks at is a gentle teenager of Hmong ethnicity named Thao. He lives with his older sister, Sue, and their mother and grandmother. (And perhaps one or two others — I may have missed something.)

This character, who barely speaks in most of his early scenes, is beloved by his immediate family but considered a non-entity. As extended family and neighbors gather for a ceremony to bless a newborn baby, an older male relative cuts in front of Thao without acknowledgment as the teenager scrubs a stack of dishes at the sink.

Kowalski seems inclined to avoid human contact with anyone other than his old war and work buddies. Thao isn’t quite as isolated, but there are people he’s eager to avoid. Specifically, he’d prefer not to be drawn into the gun-toting gang that his older cousin Spider has joined. He tries to resist but eventually agrees to an initiation that ends up going horribly wrong in a wonderfully right way.  Read the rest of this entry »

Eastwood survives lynching, but ‘Hang ’Em High’ leaves me cold

October 2, 2012

Many many (many many) years ago, when I was a student, my college had a film program called Sunday Night Flicks. (Films were also shown with varying frequency on Monday and Tuesday and Thursday nights, but be that as it may.) The movies were a mix of recent hits, usually light fare, and classics.

One of those classics was The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the seminal 1996 “Spaghetti Western” directed by Sergio Leone and memorably scored by Ennio Morricone. It was a gritty but humorous adventure film, and — for a few hours, at least — it kindled some interest in me about Westerns.

The star of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, of course, is the iconic actor Clint Eastwood. A celluloid immortal for his performances as a Western white hat and later as Dirty Harry, the violent San Francisco cop, Eastwood has also crafted an impressive career as a director, with 35 films to his credit. (He starred in many but not all of those movies.) Eastwood’s odd ad-libbed speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, of course, also secured the former California mayor a permanent footnote in the annals of American politics. 

But that’s a post for some other blog. In a recent canvass of second-hand bookstores, I came across a Clint Eastwood Western twofer DVD and snapped it up. The first of the films that I watched on the disc was a 1968 Eastwood picture I had never seen before, Hang ’Em High. (In truth, I’ve seen very few of his movies.)

Eastwood stars here as cowboy Jed Cooper, who has just driven a newly purchased herd of cattle across a river when he is accosted by a posse. They accuse him of killing the cattle’s rightful owner and rustling the herd; Cooper, a former lawman, protests his innocence. He produces a bill of sale and describes the man who sold him the herd. But the description doesn’t match that of the dead man, and the posse strings up Cooper. Read the rest of this entry »

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