In his relative old age, Clint has made films that forced me to think and feel; given the male-slacker crap I see advertised as fall films, I would say that is quite an accomplishment.
It’s true, Clint made a fool of himself in public, on cue, during the Republican convention. Apparently, he was put in that slot because Mitt Romney likes his make-my-day message. We should not be surprised after watching Romney sneer at half the country in front of his own people, the entitled rich. So Clint was no accident.
However, if Chris Christie can pine for respect from Bruce Springsteen, (ignoring the messages in the man’s songs), then I reserve the right to respect Clint the film-maker, Clint the actor.
I never had any interest in Clint’s first decades, the inarticulate avenger riding across the west or the urban landscape. But he got interesting in his old age.
Somehow I sought out The Unforgiven in 1992, knowing I would like it. It’s about an aging gunslinger who expects he will not be forgiven for the murders and robberies he has committed. Raising two children in poverty, his wife dead, he has acquired a sense of mortality along with morality -- an emergence of conscience, rarely encountered in American films,
When he is pulled back in through his need to care for his children, Clint now lives by a code. Killing makes him sick. He can no longer sleep with a woman, even when that offer is made from tender appreciation of his protection. His gravel Clint voice says, I aint like that no more. It’s not a bad code to tuck in our wallets.
Ultimately, he shoots up the bad guys. It is, after all, a Clint movie. He walks into the saloon and asks: Who’s the fellow owns this shithole? (How many times have I muttered this line in some crummy restaurant or motel? Without ensuing damage, of course.)
After the carnage, Clint rides out of town, warning people to bury his murdered pal (Morgan Freeman) and addressing the entire citizenry: “Better not cut up nor otherwise harm no whores or I’ll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches….” He is still threatening what he will do as he vanishes into the rainy night. We understand the gunslinger is a parable; it’s only a movie; but still.
In 2008, Clint issued Gran Torino, about an aging autoworker in fading Detroit, now being populated by Hmong refugees from the hill country of Laos. The film could have been called Unforgiven II because it is about a man who knows he can never escape what he did during the Korean war.
My favorite part is where Clint advises his young Hmong protégé how to carry himself like an American, including ethnic insults to friends. I also like when Clint is charmed by the young man’s college-going sister, who slyly persists in calling him Wally, causing him to grunt that his name is Walt. It would not be a Clint movie if he didn’t menace a few punks and bring about justice through a hail of bullets.
Of course, Clint could have used some of that tolerance when he addressed an empty chair that represented the President of the United States. We have known all along, watching the resentful ‘50’s redneck pusses on McConnell, Boehner and Cantor, that these last four years have really been about race. Now we watch Mitt Romney address his own kind. For the first time in this campaign, expressing scorn for collective modern society, the man comes alive; he’s the guy who brought in Clint, undoubtedly knowing of the contempt within.
Still, Clint has grown to make movies about conscience, about the potential for growth.He’s an artist. I hold him to a different standard.