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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gran Torino & In the Heat of the Night

Gran Torino (2008)

I found myself torn about Eastwood's 2008 melodrama. There is so much I admire about Eastwood's contemporary directing work. The willingness to deal with emotion, the restraint of his filmmaking, and the way he lets his stories unfold.

Unfortunately, I had some problems with the story and script, particularly in its attitudes towards race. While the movie is about a sort of reconciliation between Eastwood's racist old man and his Hmong immigrant neighbors, the movie kind of promotes a "good minority/bad minority" scheme. Also, is it just me or is Eastwood getting a little lazy in his growling performances? Worth a look, but definitely not up to the level of his earlier dramas Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby.

Grade: B-

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

One of the best books about movies I've ever read is Pictures at a Revolution, which uses the lens of the 1967 Best Picture race to look at a defining turning point in American film. In 1967, the police/race relations drama In the Heat of the Night beat two much better groundbreaking films, Bonnie and Clyde (one of my favorites) and The Graduate and two much worse films, the dated Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and the much-hated Doctor Doolittle.

Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger are terrific as a northern Philadelphia cop who helps a Southern cop solve a murder in a racist and sleepy Southern town. After reading Pictures at a Revolution, I have a better sense of how incendiary certain moments are, such as when Poitier slaps a racist white man (see video below). The racial tension in the movie is still palpable, the performances are great, and the cinematography by the great Haskell Wexler gives a modern look to the film. Unfortunately, the murder story is frankly pedestrian and often left me bored. An interesting film for historical reasons, but no longer a great one.

Grade: B

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