WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU!
I have to admit, the reason I’ve been slacking off on my post schedule is because I haven’t watched many shitty movies lately. As much as I love them, it’s important to take a break and re-watch the classics. With the garbage that pollutes modern movie theaters, it’s nice to remind yourself why you, at one time, loved cinema.
With all the classic pieces of cinema history I’ve been watching, I’ve started to notice patterns. For one thing, a hell of a lot of them involve this guy:
That’s Clint Eastwood. Actor, director, musician, cowboy, and stone cold badass, he is the King Midas of Hollywood. Think about it. Have you ever seen a Clint Eastwood movie and thought, “Man, what a piece of shit THAT was”? No, of course not. We love his movies, whether he’s in front of or behind the camera. Chances are someone within twenty feet of you is quoting one of his movies right now. He is a staple of pop culture, loved by young and old alike.
In addition to becoming the epitome of raw, rugged manliness, he’s become a universal symbol of cool. Everybody just sort of knows it, but nobody really seems to question why. What makes him different from the countless other action stars of cinema? Well, for one thing…
The Guy is Actually a Good Actor
Say what you will about stars like Schwarzenegger and Seagal. Sure, they’ve both made some great action movies and have loads of charisma and are super-entertaining, but let’s face it- neither one of them is a particularly good actor. They’ve got a shtick that they perform in their movies. They’re the ass-kicking super-cop or the ass-kicking super-soldier or the ass-kicking super-cook, and if they ever try to deviate from that role, the results are awkward at best, and Steven Seagal’s solo album at worst.
And yes, I will concede that Clint does have something of a role that he plays as well. He’s the scruffy hardass that takes no shit, talks with his teeth clenched and shoots first while asking questions never. And while that would be enough for your average action star, Clint has proven many times that he’s capable of much more than that. He’s done comedies, romances, and tragedies. The dude’s even played a country-western singer.
And sure, the other action stars I’ve mentioned have forayed into other genres. Schwarzenegger has done comedies where he doesn’t even punch or shoot a single person. He was even pregnant in one. Sylvester Stallone did a comedy where he was upstaged by an eighty year-old woman. But these characters were all cast for a quick laugh. For whatever reason, movie producers think we’re all Caligula and want nothing more than to see actors we love humiliate and degrade themselves for our amusement.
The difference with Clint is, when he slips into a new pair of shoes, you buy it. You totally believe that he’s a drunk musician, or a lost pensioner on a road trip, or a boxing legend, or even a trucker that hangs out with an orangutan. It takes a high caliber of acting to be able to jump into a new role and make it believable and entertaining, especially when your career up until that point has largely involved revolvers and sneering.
He has two Academy Award nominations for his acting, and they don’t exactly hand those out to whoever wants them. And while he didn’t win either of his acting Oscars, he still has two adorning his trophy case for Directing, as well as two Best Picture Oscars, because…
He Can Tell an Excellent Story
Clint doesn’t even need to show up on camera to make a really good film. Aside from the two directing Oscars that he has for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, he has also been nominated for Letters from Iwo Jima and Mystic River, neither of which he acted in.
He’s also proven with his films that he’s not afraid to tackle complex stories and deep, sympathetic characters. Unforgiven shattered the conventions of the Western genre by delving into the story of a retired gunman, looking back on a life of murder and crime. It explored the philosophy of taking a life and, in doing so, became Clint’s masterpiece. In Gran Torino, he managed to generate sympathy for a character that, in any other movie, could very easily pass for the villain. You actually start to like Walt Kowalski, despite the fact that he is an unabashed racist and probably about two really bad days away from shooting up the nearest Chinese buffet.
Oh, yeah. Walt. You might want to remember him. Because later, I’m going to do this thing where I blow your fucking mind. But first, let’s talk about one thing that everybody agrees on…
He is An Awesome Character
You know the character. You love the character. You love that he hasn’t seen a razor in months. You love that he probably smells a little like whiskey and menthols. He shoots bad guys, he scowls, and he looks cool as all hell doing it.
It’s the kind of character that’s carried Clint through the bulk of his career on-screen, and it has never really gotten old. When stars like Sylvester Stallone or Harrison Ford tried to rehash their characters of yesteryear, we got Rocky VI: Rocky’s Fat and Senile and Indiana Jones: Indy Hallucinates About Aliens While Dying from Radiation Poisoning, respectively.
For whatever reason, whether it be some underlying layer of charisma, or our insatiable desire to be like him, Clint Eastwood has always been, and forever will be, a character that audiences want to watch. And while I’m sure Clint would love to keep making movies where he is a shit-kicking murder machine, sooner or later, age gets the best of us. He knew he couldn’t keep making these movies forever, but he wanted to leave his fans satisfied, without necessarily needing more.
Which Is Why [SPOILER ALERT!] Walt Dies At The End
Gran Torino is an awesome movie for a couple of different reasons, but the biggest one is it’s protagonist. Walt Kowalski is such a cool character; an incredibly racist Korean War veteran and gun enthusiast who is pissed off at how lovey-dovey the world has gotten and hates literally everyone. He slings racial slurs, he loves his car, and don’t you even think about stepping on his fucking lawn.
Then, the young Vietnamese boy next door starts to fall in with the wrong crowd, and Walt becomes the reluctant hero, saving a life that he could otherwise give two shits about. Things continue to escalate and the gang violence in the neighbourhood worsens until Walt, finally having had it with this shit, heads over to the gang’s crib to teach those snot-nosed punks a less- oh, what? He didn’t shoot a single one? He got shot a bunch and died?
Yes. Yes, of course he did. And here’s why: it was this character’s time. Clint knew that he was getting too old to keep making movies like Dirty Harry. So, rather than letting that bit fade into obscurity, or keep hashing it out until he dropped dead or we stopped caring, he brought the character arch to it’s logical conclusion. And sweet mother of God, what a conclusion. By standing up to these punks and sacrificing his own life, he saved the neighbourhood from terror and crime. These little assholes would be brought to justice, and the kids he had grown fond of would be safe. It makes perfect sense for a character who, while not everyone may see eye-to-eye with his beliefs, is good at his core and simply wants to see justice done. The kind of character that Clint is best known for, and most loved for, playing.
Clint hasn’t acted in a movie since.
It was Clint’s way of giving his fans a satisfying end to someone they’ve loved for years. He knew he was getting too old for this shit and, rather than just retire and fade away, he wanted to end on a high note. Killing Walt was his way of transforming the character he’s been playing for years from badass to tragic hero. We’re sad to see him go, but we’re so glad he did the way he did.
Incidentally, did you know they’re making a Die Hard 5?