Gran Torino (2008)
Clint Eastwood continues to impress me. He won the Academy Award for best director at the age of 74 (although I felt his Million Dollar Baby was slightly overrated), went on to direct two full-length WWII films two years later, and in 2008, at age 78, he made another two films. One is Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, the other is Gran Torino, starring Clint himself.
I watched Gran Torino a few days after watching Clint's inherently over-the-top The Gauntlet from 1977, and I felt it quite ironic that the two films share some clumsy traits. Ironic because as The Gauntlet pointed Clint towards the arguably most ineffective period of his career in films, Gran Torino comes at a time when Eastwood, over the past 15 years, has manifested his position as one of the most important men in film history. In my opinion, this is proof that although you might find Clint's films oftentimes portraying people in a simplistic, almost banal manner, he always aims to address important human and sociological issues. At his best, he does this incredibly subtly (like in Unforgiven), but even when his tales become somewhat murky, they still always maintain their forcefulness.
Gran Torino is one of these movies. The presentation of the characters and the environments are extreme and overdone, almost unyielding. Eastwood's realization of Walt Kowalski feels almost as a parody of Clint's many former characters, and the issues he address - while relevant - are not at all presented in a subtle manner. But then Kowalski grows on us, and we realize that although Clint's acting hasn't changed tone or become more diverse, it still is filled with an undeniable force and a lot of restrained emotion. And when you start to read between the lines of Gran Torino, it becomes clear that this disgruntled, negative and racist old man basically is a logical continuation of not necessarily the characters Clint have portrayed up through the years, but in any case of the violent, warmongering society from which they stem.
There is both hope and deep understanding in Gran Torino, but after years of isolation and aggression, the characters have hidden this deep beneath their skin. The film is about how they rediscover these qualities, and how they find a place for them in an otherwise cold society. Eastwood extracts a resonantly mature tone and interpretation from Nick Schenk's solid script, and in the end, Gran Torino is remarkably effective and affecting, despite the somewhat inadequate acting by the younger performers. In my opinion, Clint's best film since The Bridges of Madison County.