Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dirty Harry Saves the Day. Again.

For the record, I am a big Clint Eastwood fan. His "spaghetti western" roles were the stuff of idol worship for any little boy who wanted to kick ass and take names with nothing more than a fake finger gun. And, in fairness, I haven't seen his new flick Grand Torino, but the commercials and premise bother me a bit. The film is set in Detroit where Eastwood's suburban Dirty Harry-type character is watching his once white working class neighborhood become home to a flock of recent immigrants, including Hmong families. I won't get into all the plot lines (you can see it/read the reviews), but the general gist is that Eastwood teaches the local thuggery a thing or two about manners.

What annoys me about Grand Torino is that here's another scenario where the fed-up angry white guy pushes back on the brown hoodlums (In this case, neighborhood gangsters) presumably taking over. I know there's a positive message in here somewhere about race and redemption—Variety thinks so, at least—but I doubt the typical moviegoer goes for that. Variety's review didn't share by beef and compliments Eastwood on dealing with race, citing his films like Bird and Flags of our Fathers (which director Spike Lee dumped on for its lack of black war heroes).

1993's Falling Down was the classic modern prototype for the mild mannered white guy (Michael Douglass) becoming fed up with the new locals—pretty much most of Los Angeles—and getting his Charles Bronson on. There is also the scene in 1991's Grand Canyon where Danny Glover rescues a hapless and freaked out Kevin Kline from some roving South Central knuckleheads. But Glover's tow truck driving character humbly reasons with the hoodlums--as opposed to snuffing them with a masochistic glee.

Ultimately, this comes down to typical Hollywood film making, limited by the life experience of script writers and directors (The white guys channel Bernhard Goetz while the black guy can "reason" with his people). The updated version of this light-skinned fear/paranoia of the urban/suburban jungle is 2004's Crash, which was literally inspired by the director's own car jacking. I don't know about you, but I found that whole film utterly unbelievable. On what planet does this series of nightmare criminal scenarios play out over 36 hours?

Of course the vigilante fantasy is in all of us, especially if you've been on the wrong end of a gun, mugging, fist or intimidating stare. It's a cathartic type of movie watching and I'm definitely not saying it's all racist. I'd just once love to see the film where the brown guy sets all the local ruffians straight and walks off into the sunset.


Pachuco 3000 said...

I totally see you point(s). After seeing it, I liked it, I tell peeps to go see it but to be aware that it does use a lot of stereotypes and language that is racist.
It shows a man or an era that is on its last breaths. Wave good bye to them/him and learn to NOT be like him. Others have told me I would not be so kind if he had used Latinos in the typical gangster role. Maybe. Asian and Anglo relations have other dimensions that Latinos do not and some of them are played out in this film with bold reality. I don't know many Latinos who would chat along with an old white man who calls them a wetback or any of the many disparaging words Eastwood's character throws at his Hmong neighbors. Of course there are some who would take it and I would call them kiss asses, tio tacos and sell outs trying to get along with a whitey that is about to die out anyway. But that's just me and my Aztlan loving friends. It is great story telling even if it's not a story we like to see and hear.

mikebee said...

I thought it was fantastic and it's not what you think. The film definitely plays on the assumption that Eastwood is going to arm up and blow the thugs away, because (and not to spoil) that's NOT what happens. I thought it was real & honest, especially in its portrayal of a 70-year-old racist Korean war vet.

Prometheus Brown said...

Great blog - got linked from Disgrasian.

I shared every bit of skepticism in your post before watching Gran Torino.

Couldn't turn down a free screening on Monday, so I went. And my skepticism was blown away.

It alllllmost plays out as a dark satire of the white savior/brown saved film, though it has a decidedly serious tone. And Clint casts the subject of race and religion, though rather conveniently narrative-wise, in a light apart from thinly-veiled neo-con tripe like Crash and Falling Down.

Check my review when you get a chance: