My friend Joseph Failla hasn't seen Gran Torino yet, but from what he knows about it he infers a thematic continutiy that I didn't touch on in my post about the film yesterday. Take it away, Joe:
You know I always took a beating because of my high regard and respect for Clint Eastwood's films and performances. For years, the easiest way for me to lose respect as a film enthusiast was to bring Eastwood into the discussion. This was at a time when he had started directing, but was primarily known as a western and action star. Even today, with all the critical attention he's garnered, some folks still consider him a slight filmmaker and actor of little notice. Once again, I'll take the opportunity to disagree.
Much more than concluding a trilogy, Gran Torino appears to continue a theme which figures prominently in Eastwood's work ever since he moved behind the camera about the importance of family and the protection of our children. It dates back not only to personal projects like Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man but to popular crowd pleasers such as The Outlaw Josey Wales and Pale Rider, both of which show a loner joining with other outsiders to form a new family of sorts. I don't think he really brings it into full focus till A Perfect World but from that film on he seems passionate enough in his convictions to make anyone reassess his long career up to that point.
I've long admired A Perfect World as one of his finest films, but coming after the Oscar-winning Unforgiven, many fans probably didn't appreciate Eastwood's character spending as much time as he does off screen, even though star Costner turns in his best performance as an escaped convict who kidnaps a young boy and then looks after the child's well being. The scene where Costner holds a farm family at gunpoint and threatens the father after he strikes his own son is as dramatic a sequence as Eastwood ever directed.
Mystic River explores the dangers of child abuse handed down from one generation to the next. A single incident haunts three childhood friends into their adult lives and it ramifications instigate more violence. Sean Penn's local crime boss, mad with grief over his daughter's murder, reaps a bitter reward for his vengence.
In the searing Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood's character's fear for the safety of the fighters he manages, and the subsequent guilt he feels after he fails in that responsibility, is thoroughly explored. He looks upon his discovery Hilary Swank as his own daughter. After she suffers her injury, she asks for his assistance one more time, but in order to comply, he risks losing his soul.
I always responded to Flags of Our Fathers more strongly than to its more acclaimed co-project Letters From Iwo Jima, not because I can't relate to a different culture's point of view but, simply put, because at its heart lies the story of a son who is trying to understand his father.
So I don't think it's coincidental at all that Changeling and Gran Torino fit right in with these previous titles, as one deals with the mysterious disappearance of a child, and the other with the bond that forms between Eastwood's cantankerous war vet and a Hmong boy's family, despite his deep seeded prejudice. When I first saw the Gran Torino trailer, I sensed the character Eastwood was portraying was not far removed from his Sgt. "Gunny" of the underrated Heartbreak Ridge. He was just as brash and offensive, but probably a little more unhinged. Maybe it was my experience of watching Million Dollar Baby with a full house in hushed silence, but I was guessing there's something more going on in this film than the trailer implies. From what I'm now reading, I sense that I was right and I'm bracing for it.