Chiming in quickly here to refine my earlier query about Clint Eastwood (not least because of the e-mails I’ve been getting from readers with vigilante justice in their eyes): When I asked whether anyone else found him overrated, I was referring to Eastwood the director, not Eastwood the actor. To carp about the latter would be like objecting to the cracks in the Liberty Bell. Stephanie’s right: He owns every crease in that monument of a face, and his great strength as a performer, especially as he ages, has been to understand and inhabit that monumentality with an ironic intelligence that, in this year’s Gran Torino, comes close to imploding the Eastwood myth from within.
Comes close … until Eastwood the director comes galumphing in with what I think even a lot of his fans agreed was a mawkishly heroic ending, which (I can state without spoiling either movie) shares a weird messianic logic with the finale of the award-winningly lousy Seven Pounds. The Manichaean split between Eastwood’s bad guys (that slavering child-murderer in The Changeling, warbling “Silent Night” under his execution hood) and his good guys/gals (Angelina Jolie, bruised and trembling in the snake-pit psycho ward) is just too stark for me to take seriously the moral plight of either. Isn’t the righteous masochism of Gran Torino (or The Changeling or Million Dollar Baby) just an inversion of the righteous sadism of the Dirty Harry movies?