Thursday, January 1, 2009
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.