A few not-so-shocking giveaways about this week’s new movie releases, including Justice League and Frank Serpico
Matthew Lickona 6 p.m., Nov. 17
Clint Eastwood, director, serves Clint Eastwood, actor, a nice fat one, a softball lobbed right down the middle of the plate and effortlessly belted over the fence: a sort of Grumpy Old Man version of Dirty Harry, a scowler and a growler (looking and sounding uncannily like a dog in defense of a T-bone), a new widower who has seen his Detroit neighborhood taken over by Hmong immigrants (“HUM-mong,” in his two-syllable pronunciation), a hard-ass retiree defined by a pair of prized possessions, the M-1 rifle that commemorates his service in the Korean War and the ’72 Gran Torino that commemorates his life’s work on the Ford assembly line. The character’s blatant bigotry toward his Asian neighbors, whereby he runs through every applicable epithet in a thesaurus of slang (past “fishhead” and “gook” all the way to “zipperhead”) is somewhat problematic. Eastwood’s endearing presence in the role automatically takes the edge off the racism in a way that just wouldn’t happen if the role were occupied by, say, Gene Hackman, Rip Torn. And taking the edge off the racism is not altogether a good idea, regardless how many laughs you get out of it. What ultimately redeems him and his film is not the conventional, formulaic, soft-hearted and simple-minded warming of relations with the two weakly acted Hmong teenagers next door, and not the tighter focus of wrath on the Asian street gang that’s terrorizing the neighborhood, and not even the expediently plotted climactic act of karmic restitution (which in honesty had slim chance to work out as planned). No, none of that. What redeems him and his film, lending it, for all its entertainment value, a sense of gravity and personal conviction, is simply its place in line in his ongoing penance for the offhand violence, the incalculable casualties, of his earlier career: its place behind Unforgiven, A Perfect World, Mystic River, etc. Once was not enough. It was not just lip service, like an obligatory number of Hail Marys after a long-postponed trip to confession. It was, so it would appear, a genuine conversion, a revelation. This stands as the further proof of it, and further refinement of it. With Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley. 2008.