Sunday January 11, 2009
Less Than Grand 'Torino'
The weekend isn’t over yet but the weekend box office race is. They know us too well now and have already calculated how we’ll act the rest of the day.
The surprise winner is Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which expanded from 80+ theaters on Thursday to over 2,800 Friday. Moviegoers, including Patricia and myself Friday night, responded.
Both of us were disappointed. The film works within Eastwood’s oeuvre — particularly: how his character responds to violence — but, by itself, it’s wanting. Eastwood’s famous one-take directing style works less well with non-actors like the Hmong here than with, you know, professionals like Gene Hackman or Morgan Freeman, or, here, John Carroll Lynch (Marge Gunderson’s husband in “Fargo” and Arthur Leigh Allen in “Zodiac”), who plays Martin, the Italian barber. Some nice scenes in that shop, even if, once the Jewish tailor and the Irish construction worker arrive in the film, it all feels too much like Eastwood’s departed vision of America. I’m still waiting on the Chinese launderer.
None of the Hmong, however, are actor enough to stand with Eastwood. They seem cowed by his presence. They mumble. They strike false notes. Again and again. They could’ve used some more takes, or coaching, or something. Even the baby-faced priest isn't a powerful enough presence. They should've gotten someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Eastwood. They didn't.
Even so, I’m glad the film got out there and people responded.