Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Capsule Reviews on Milk and Gran Torino

Gran Torino, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, might have been the best film I've seen all year (either that or Slumdog Millionaire). It was truly an amazing and profoundly moving experience. The story is about a grumpy, foul-mouthed, and somewhat bigoted old Korean War vet in a rundown neighborhood who is at first resistant to the change he sees his community taken over by the Hmoung (ethnic group from Southeast Asia). In most films, the cinematography is designed to glamorize what's in front of the camera, but Clint's (or should I say Walt, his character's) neighborhood is starkly unpleasant to look at. It's one of those rundown industrial towns, like you find in Michigan. The neighbors are threatened by gang violence and when Walt saves them from being harassed by pointing a gun at the gang, he becomes a reluctant hero. Not wanting any special attention, he refuses all the gifts, but he gradually softens up as his neighbors keep tugging away at his heartstrings and starts to mentor the two kids next door, Sue and Tao. The film is a sweeping look at faith, shell shock, urban decay, culture clash, and especially ageism. Clint does battle and proves his worth to teenagers who are essentially writing him off because he's old. Maybe that's what every teenager does these days. This is the first picture I've seen to confront this so well. The film features Clint Eastwood's best performance.

Milk isn't particularly great. It's probably going to get one of the five Oscar nominations for best picture but aside from the acting, it's nothing special. Sean Penn plays a real-life figure who became the first gay person to hold a public office. He was elected to the San Fransisco board of chairman or something like that. Josh Brolin stars as his eventual assassin and the dialogue between Penn and Brolin is the highlight of the film. The two are a microcosm for the standstill that currently exists between the gay community and the religious right, who maintain that they are not homophobic and good people, but continue to deny the gay community rights (Mind you, I'm not taking a stand on the issue). Other than that, however, the film is a little long-winded and just didn't generally move me like some of the other films this year. It's a good film but just not great.