Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gran Torino

Above is lovely music vid for Eastwood’s Gran Torino.

Over the weekend, I had to rewrite my next article for Script. (Editors said it lacked my usual “punch and panache.” Hehehe… Happy to do the rewrites, of course.) The next topic will be on Unsympathetic Protagonists, and it seemed almost serendipitous Gran Torino should get released the same weekend I’m contemplating this subject.

So I included a few words about Eastwood’s film:

As I write these words, Gran Torino was just released, and I loved it. Here is a gun-toting racist sneering at and insulting everyone around him every chance he gets. Nick Schenk’s spec was of course shot down all over Hollywood by “pro readers” who, I’m sure, were filled with visions of lollipops and sympathetic protagonists in their heads. That is, until the spec wound up in the hands of Clint Eastwood, who had the power to turn it into a film. You gotta love Eastwood.

Do we approve of his character’s racial slurs? No. Do we find it funny that a man would be so politically incorrect in social situations? Yes. But you also instinctively know that the movie’s not approving of his racism, either. You know as you watch the film that the story will be about breaking barriers. You know that the main character, Walt Kowalski, will come to accept his neighbors and even fight for them, which is inspiring. But through the act of making this unsympathetic racist the protagonist, we’re shown that there are more sides to him than his racism. We also find value in seeing how people react to his racism, how they refuse to cry over his insults, but stand up to him and prove their worth, much in the same way characters reacted to Archie Bunker on TV. And in a sense, the movie props you up, too, and straightens your back and encourages you to be stronger. Prove your worth. Don’t cower to racism. Break barriers.

I liked what Ebert
had to say about Walt’s character: “Walt is not so much a racist as a security guard, protecting his own security.”


Lisa said...

Is this script up anywhere yet?

Christian M. Howell said...

It looks like my homage to Clint was right on time. I always say that people want extraordinary characters in ordinary situations (for the movies).
He made a very good living and became an icon on the same character in different situations.

Jim said...

Sorry, this movie is vile. If Walt had been going on about nigger nigger nigger nigger, who'd be laughing at his cuteness then, hmm? Could be the s/writer knows soemthing about the situation between the Hmong community and blue-collar whites and he was trying to give voice to that. If that's the case-- he failed. Make a documentary, or get 60 Minutes to examination the situation. But this was just so much rank bullshit. I can't believe the success of this goat.

OutOfContext said...

@lisa--it was available on the Warner Bros. For Your Consideration promo page, but looks like it's once again unavailable.
Haven't seen the picture, but I've read the script and was neither offended nor entertained. I'll see it when it's on home video.

purpletrex said...

I felt like the movie totally pussed out on every angle. Eastwood's character was too reserved and the movie was PG-13 racism. When Walt took the Hmong kid to the "racist" barber to teach him how to "talk like a man," I think everyone's eyes in the theater rolled simultaneously.

I think where the movie totally failed, was that Walt was an "Aw shucks, racist." Walt never crossed the PG-13 barrier, and really neither did any of the antagonists.

Speaking of antagonists, I just could not believe the whole Hmong "cousins" as the bad guys, and the whole rape thing was just really strange.

David Alan said...

Yeah, it’s a fantastic movie -- go see it people -- but Walt isn’t an unsympathetic protag.


How could you not feel for Walt? Now a widower, who does he have? It certainly isn’t his two adult sons and their families. He shuns them, rightfully so, for being disrespectful and selfish. Hell, the grandkids couldn’t even be bothered to dress up for his wife’s funeral.

Walt just has his dog, house -- and a prize 1972 Gran Torino that is kept in tip-top shape. Ah, he also harbors resentment at pretty much everybody. Why wouldn’t an audience want this guy to find peace?

I know I did.

I wanted him to warm up to his next-door neighbors. And you know what? Before long, it comes as no surprise that he has more in common with the Hmong family than his own children.


An audience, on some level, needs to care for the protag -- or, more importantly, see the good in them -- even when they are the vilest fucking people.

Let me explain why:

Imagine that I just wrote a movie about a fire fighter on 9-11. His girl is in the mood for some morning sex for the first time in months -- that’s when he gets the call. Both WTC buildings are fucking ablaze and the nation is under attack. What does he do? Well, he doesn’t do the heroic thing. No, when the bastard does find out, he simply shrugs and is otherwise disinterested and goes back to getting laid instead of doing his fucking job!!!

Now WTC 1 has fallen. The world is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket. So where is our hero? Well, he’s nowhere on the scene -- the dude still hasn’t moved into action. All he’s thinking about is how the world has interfered with his romance and how he’ll have to make it up to her by having dinner at fucking O'Charley's.

Or maybe I wrote a court drama about a negligent single mother fighting to get her land back from the Feds -- the kicker being -- they seized it when she was accused of holding dog fights, which she is guilty of doing. Only thing is she wasn’t convicted because of tainted evidence.

In other words -- I’ve lost my audience after the opening scenes. Who would want to follow them into battle or a movie for two hours? I can already hear what the audience is thinking -- tell you what fire fighter, crawl back into bed with your lady and we’ll get a "real hero" to do the job like John McClaine, or Clark Kent, or...or anyone but this asshole who can’t be bothered to rise to the occasion and do the right thing.

My point, there is NO such thing as an unsympathetic protag. There are only more likeable characters than others. Unsympathetic implies no sympathy. No redeeming qualities. Like I said above, we need to know, deep down, that’s not who the protag truly is.

-- David Alan

Wow, I must love hearing myself type. Hahaha... I apologize for the long-winded response.

Anonymous said...

MM -

I gotta say this movie surprised me because it took a "typical" Eastwood role and turned out around. His ending was brilliantly written because it shattered the stereotype of the gun-toting man who blasts his way to revenge, and instead very cleverly solves the problem with his own sacrifice (which of course was believable given his closeness to death).

This was thought-provoking because he was a racist, and he wasn't. It's a classic example of character depth because he contained contradictions.

Ross (back in the mix)

Jason Bellamy said...

MM: I must say, your "love" of this film stuns me, considering you advocate "show, don't tell" (a rule "Gran Torino" violates constantly), considering that "Gran Torino" is full of groan-inducing on-the-nose observations (poor writing) and considering that there are some significant contradictions in the presentation of Eastwood's Walt (poor character development).

In the latter case, I don't mean that there are complex-character contradictions. I mean that the film can't make up its mind how to deal with this guy. When you say that we "instinctively know" that the movie doesn't approve of Walt's racism, isn't that more or less code for saying: 'Well, we know Eastwood isn't out to make a racist movie, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt in instances where the story/screenplay fails to properly articulate this point of view'?

Finally, just a note: I know exactly what you mean in your final statement on racism. But I'd be careful with "prove your worth" comments, which could be easily misread to mean that minorities need to prove that their mistreatment has been unjust -- that the burden is on them. Again, I know how you mean it above, just like I know what Eastwood meant to do with "Gran Torino." But if I just look at the words ...

All of this said, I love your blog and never miss it. Keep up the good work.

Mystery Man said...

Lisa - send me an e-mail (mysterymants@hotmail.com) and I'll send you the script.

Christian - Yeah. And Eastwood doesn't give a shit about established formulas, which you gotta love.

Jim - Interesting. Walt wasn't a blanket racist as, say, Archie Bunker. I could be wrong, but Walt's racism was very specific about Asians because of the war. And he went from hating them to fighting for them, which is a great arc. The fact that racist dialogue exists should not be a reason to condemn the film but rather, you have to ask the question about its context.

OutOfContext - Just send me an e-mail (mysterymants@hotmail.com) and I'll send the script.

Purple - Could be, but my audience laughed throughout the film. I admit, I laughed out loud a couple of times. I agree with you, though. It's not a perfect film, not Oscar worthy, and not the best in Eastwood's career. But as newbie scripts go, it's fun.

David - On the opening funeral scenes: I don't know if the audience felt for Walt and his dead wife or if they were more amused by his cynical reactions to the people coming to the funeral. On the example, there most certainly IS just a thing as an unsympathetic protagonist, which will get exhaustively explored in my next Script Mag article.

Ross - Thanks, man.

Jason - Fabulous comments. Thanks, man. There's one flaw in your thinking, though. On-the-nose dialogue is okay (at least in my book) when the intention is humor. More often than not, humorous lines have to be on-the-nose in order to be funny. And Schenk skirts complaints about his lack of subtlety and subtext because the intent with the dialogue was mostly humorous. He will have to seriously step up his game if he's going to write a serious drama because you really need that subtext to make dramatic scenes interesting. He is very much a newbie but, for me, the end result was, not superb, but passable. BTW - Love having you here.


Pinky said...

clint's performance was a master class this film is humorous, current, and touching

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