Sunday, February 9, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Gran Torino

A warning before we begin. This post contains extreme language and images that might offend.

Also, it contains one huge SPOILER that might ruin any surprises if you haven't seen this movie.  If you have that intent, I'd bypass this post.

The Story: Last week, we showed the first instance of "the Clint Eastwood joke" away 'way back from A Fistful of Dollars

Here's the last...well, hopefully the last, anyway. Eastwood said he'd retire appearing in movies after Gran Torino, then reneged on it to appear in a buddy's picture Trouble with the Curve. Ah, he can do what he wants, but it would have been the perfect bow to have gone "out" on this scene, which is a reversal of that first shoot-out and the long line of similar "face-off's" enacted throughout his long career.

Perfect, because it put a lie to that initial conceit of one guy against several gun-men of varying talents coming out unscathed as "the last man standing." That conceit continued to show up in one form or another, and the better directors, like Don Siegel and John Sturges...and Eastwood...tried to find ways to make it more plausible, be it geography, surprise, master diversions, or just by being the one guy unafraid to pull a trigger, and ornery enough to keep pulling it.

Eastwood, the director, made quite a few minor changes to the script of first-time screenwriter Nick Schenk (the changes are minor, despite Schenk's assertions that Eastwood left the script alone, and he's probably referring to studios' resistance to an elderly protagonist with a propensity for racism). You can compare script to image, and I've crossed out the dialog not used, and fonted the dialog that replaced in green. It's night, not afternoon (which is atmospheric, but might make subsequent identification of the perpetrators difficult). The dialog has been reduced to bare essentials and the young gang's speech has been roughed up...considerably. Eastwood was never comfortable with long monologues and speeches, and so his dialog is pared down to the tough highlights and not much else. Quick punches and jabs, brevity being the soul of wit (and Eastwood being the driest—desert-dry—of wits).

The major change is a few cut-aways where Kowalski shadow-boxes a potential shoot-out with the Hmong gang-members, analyzing the likeliest threats, taking them out first, then moving to the next. If the gang were that jumpy, they might have killed him right then. But, it's there to telegraph suspense to the audience, prime the pump of nervousness to the gang-members, and maybe lend a bit of nostalgia...because that's what's expected to happen.

When it doesn't, it's a surprise, as it is meant to be. But the ultimate goals are satisfied; the threat will be taken down, but without the last man standing.

The Set-Up: Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), retired auto-worker, widower, geezer, has just buried his wife and gotten to know his neighbors, odd because they're not white, not old...and basically not him. But, he ends up being more than the crotchety old neighbor and begins sponsoring, in a way—mentoring, if you will—the kids next door, who are being harassed by cousins in a gang. Tao is being groomed for membership, and his refusal has led to the rape and beating up of his sister.

This will not stand. Words are no longer enough.

"When you're ready."

Walt pulls up in front, gets out of his pickup and slams the door. He looks at the duplex. It's a total eyesore. 
WALT (MUTTERS) What a goddamned mess. You slopes should be ashamed of yourselves
112. CONTINUED: 105 105 (CONTINUED) 
PAGE 114 Walt walks up the sidewalk and stops twenty feet from the duplex. 
Six very scared, very jittery Hmong gangbangers look out at Walt from various doorways and windows.
GANG MEMBER: What the fuck?
WALT Is that all you swamp rats or is there more vermin scurrying in the shadows?  Any more swamp rats in there?
Smokie and Spider step out and stand on the porch. Smokie smiles at Walt. Walt spits on the ground. 
SMOKIE I wasn't sure that you'd...I don't think your ass woulda came... 
WALT Shut up, gook. 
WALT I got nothing to say to you. I'm not here to listen to one goddamned syllable of what a 
WALT Shrimp-dicked little baby midget like you has to say
Spider pulls his PISTOL. 
WALT That's right, boy. Defend Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and watch out for your boyfriend 
WALT ...after Cuz it was he or you or whoever rapes a member of your family. Your own blood, for Christ's sake. 
WALT Go ahead...
WALT ...pull your pistols, just like a bunch of ridiculous miniature toy cowboys. 
Smokie and several other Hmong gangbangers pull their guns.
WALT You have no honor. You're the scum of the earth and when you're gone, do you think anyone will care? No one will mourn. You won't be missed
WALT Go ahead...
All the Hmong are spooked at Walt's absolute lack of fear. 
SMOKIE Where's Tao, old man? He too scared to come and stick up for himself? That pussy motherfucker couldn't come?
113. CONTINUED: 106 106 (CONTINUED) PAGE 115 
WALT Don't worry about Tao.  No. Tao is too good for this. You pukes aren't worth one second of his time. Tao's got not one second for you.
SMOKIE: Says who?
Gang members chuckle.
SMOKIE: What the fuck YOU gonna do....
SMOKIE: ...old ma-an.
SPIDER: Whatcha gonna do, punk-ass old man?
Walt slowly puts a CIGARETTE in his mouth. 
Even this slight movement has the gangbangers waving their PISTOLS around. Walt laughs. 
WALT You boys are a little bit jumpy. Kinda jumpy, aren't we? 
SPIDER You watch it, old man. Shut the fuck up.
WALT No, I think you'd better watch it. YOU shut the fuck up.
Walt looks around. 
At this point, Kowalski mimes shooting at the gang at each position from the duplex.  Other than the gangbangers, a small group of people have gathered to watch this showdown. 
WALT Anybody got a light?
GANG MEMBER: ...the fuck? 
WALT No? I got one
WALT Me? I got a light.
Walt's slight grin fades. He mutters to himself... 
WALT Hail Mary, full of grace. 
Walt reaches into his coat pocket. 
Six Hmong gangbangers simultaneously level their PISTOLS and FIRE. 
BULLETS FLY. Walt is struck down. 
People scream. 
Walt falls dead. 
A ZIPPO lighter clutched in his hand. 
Walt never intended to kill anyone. 

Gran Torino

Words by Nick Schenk

Pictures by Tom Stern and Clint Eastwood

Gran Torino is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video.

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