Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Kindness Of Strangers

City Heat: Clint Eastwood gets good, bad and ugly in his movie Gran Torino

The Blind Side Rating:

Gran Torino rating:

Two movies I watched while resting my injured leg had a common theme: helping strangers. In this age of identity theft and Judge Judy, helping strangers seems like a dicey proposition. Not a lot of trust in the world, which is maybe why movies now provide us with the fantasy of that valued commodity.

First up is Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock in the based on a true story flick The Blind Side. I guess the obvious question is: how good was Bullock's performance? Well, I'll say that for the first time since her debut I was willing to buy her as a character instead of an established personality and that she was genuinely affecting. It wasn't the most powerful performance that left me in awe or anything like that. Her performance slightly resembled fellow rom com darling Julia Robert's path to Oscar gold in Erin Brockovich, being all sassy and assertive towards men while shakin' her moneymaker. The rest of the movie would be Hallmark tv level in terms of tone and plausibility if it wasn't based on a true story. An affluent family takes in a teenager from the ghetto and gives the teen the support he needs to become a successful football player. It's all done ably and professionally, but taken as a whole The Blind Side is unremarkable as a piece of cinema (the fact that it's a true story is heartwarming though) save Bullock and the always entertaining Kathy Bates.

All this lovey dovey life is like a box of chocolates crap is enough to make Clint Eastwood cough up blood, so he does in Gran Torino. Directed and starring Clint, Eastwood does what Michael Douglas failed to do years earlier with Falling Down. That's making a portrait of an old school guy who sees his America disappearing into a sea of multi culturalism. But where Douglas' effort was a one note affair satirizing an attack against others, Eastwood illustrates how his character comes to care for other people beneath his gruff, racist exterior. He develops a relationship with his Hmong neighbors through a local gang problem, eventually mentoring the boy who tried to steal his prized possession- a 1972 Gran Torino. In his old age, Eastwood has excelled at giving vivid believable portrayals of aging bad asses. If I remember correctly, there was some controversy about how Asian Americans are depicted/addressed in the movie. Since the film is about the viewpoint of a military guy who fought in Korea and retained a pre-Civil Rights view of everyone (if you made a checklist of all the races that get slurred on in this movie, you'd hit just about all of them), I was able to let the rampant racism slide as part of dramatic license. In fact, I found Gran Torino moving. I damn near cried at the end but then I asked myself: Do I feel lucky? Well, do I punk?

Two movies that set out to repair the sense of community and trust that is lacking in the real world. Isn't it odd that the film of pure fiction was the most affecting?

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