Monday, 2 July 2012

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino.

Gran Torino is enjoyable film even if weakened a bit by the very rough acting by most of the supporting cast about an elderly war veteran who must deal with the Hmong immigrants who live all around him.

Clint Eastwood announced his role here being his last acting role on screen, just as Million Dollar Baby had been before, well it turns out he is performing again this year on screen, so Eastwood might have made a bit of an exaggeration. Although it certainly has the marks of a farewell performance as it has many things similar to John Wayne's performance in the Shootist. They both portrayed aged men who are dying who take it upon themselves to do something as a final action of their life. Although one performance takes place in the old west, and one in modern times they both seem to be a closing statement on their archetypal characters they once portrayed.

Eastwood portrays a character of tough individualist that certainly can be taken as a sort of variation on Dirty Harry, some in fact thought that this might be the sixth Dirty Harry film. It was not and to be fair Walt Kowalski in many ways is not Harry Callahan. Dirty Harry for example was a cop, not a industrial worker, also Harry was always a tough man, but a tough man with a good sense of humor, Walt on the other hand has a harder time seeing the funny things in life. They are similar in that they are both portrayed by Clint Eastwood who really does not have the greatest range of any actor, but there is no one who do what Eastwood does better than Eastwood himself.

Clint Eastwood here actually though does something quite interesting in the role of the crusty old Walt Kowalski is that in some ways this is a humorous performance by Clint Eastwood. Now as I said before old Walt really does not crack too many jokes himself, but Eastwood uses his crustiness for comedic purposes early on in the film as he grunts and angrily stares down anything he hates about his relative or just society in general. Eastwood actually is quite good in his timing of his growls he makes particularly in just his opening scene where he is constantly being annoyed by his bizarre grandchildren who bother to go to the church and do the sign of the cross and kneel yet dress in what must be considered deranged fashion if they bother to do the rest.

Although one could try to argue that Eastwood's portrayal is repetitive, I would say it is not because of his ability to both portray the character seriously as well poke at him at the same time seamlessly. More importantly though Eastwood is almost always watchable and that is most certainly true even for the very rough Walt. Yes Walt is a usually angry man who is liked by very few people, and insults others constantly he still is quite likable. The main reason being once again due to Eastwood's unique charisma that as solely found within Eastwood. Really these mean old men type performances are by nature difficult to make likable in that they are mean old men, but there is just something about Eastwood that overrides these potential problems with seemingly no effort.

Eastwood interestingly despite being in his late seventies is still the same commanding presence he had always been. When he stares down and fights with various street thugs he has that same old Eastwood intensity that makes these scenes believable. Eastwood here shows that even at his older age still can truly dominate a scene more than actors half his age. He makes every one of the scenes where Walt efficiently deals with the thugs believable, because Eastwood is always on the mark, and in control. He even still has the silent cool that Eastwood uses so effectively in these scenes, and naturally makes Walt a force to be reckoned with.

The arc of Walt of a character comes in with his eventual acceptance of his neighbors as well as coming to the point in which he identifies with them far more than he does with his relatives. Eastwood actually plays this very well avoiding really the cliches of the gruff individual learning to open up. As Eastwood never lets up on his roughness in any way, and handles his whole acceptance in a perfectly Walt Kowalski fashion. Eastwood shows a little resistance in Walt, but at the same time he takes a cut through the crap approach that is perfectly fitting for Walt. Once he sees that they are indeed worth his time he just goes into no reason to waste time in accepting them in his own way.

This no nonsense approach Eastwood uses as well in his portrayal of Walt's past where he is haunted by the people he killed in the Korean war. This again is really the only way Walt would deal with such a thing. Eastwood shows the pain is there, but Walt is just not the sort of man to allow something like that to be anything but what lies internally within himself. When he does expresses his pain more outwardly it is fast and sharp and of course to the point. This is a strong performance by Eastwood because he never compromises Walt as a character. Even when he is randomly doing things he has never done before it is the same up front style, Eastwood always shows that no matter what Walt will do things his way as that is who Walt is. This may not be Eastwood's greatest work, but it is a strong performance that really only Clint Eastwood could have brought to life.


dshultz said...

I agree with every word, though I would give him five jacks. Eastwood is so very underrated as an actor, which I think is due to his very unique and singular style. He is one of the best.

Edward L. said...

I agree with your review. I thought he was terrific. Not quite at the level of his performances in Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, but very close.

Michael Patison said...

I just thought about something else. You absolutely have to review Victor Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow when you do 1937.

Louis Morgan said...

I'll keep him in mind.

Anonymous said...

A suggestion for 2007: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. A masterful performance.

joe burns said...

Good review!!!

I myself haven't seen him, but I really admire his work in Million Dollar Baby.