by Brian Smith
Finally saw Gran Torino last night, an early evening show in a Birmingham theater filled with white grayhairs and their grandsons, fans of crusty old Clint. I was keen to see shots of Detroit in the film, to know that the weeks-long road obstructions last summer around Highland Park weren't for naught. In some sweet nostalgic way, the street obstacles reminded me of negotiating those in Los Angeles where you couldn't spit in any direction and not hit a film crew and its associated trucks, trailers and cops directing traffic. Film crews have diplomatic immunity in L.A., and apparently do here too, now. Nice that some type of "art" created in America — even if it is dull, celebrity-driven goo-gah — can still earn benevolent gestures from a community at large, and Lord knows Detroit could use the film industry's filthy lucre here.
So, if you've not seen Gran Torino, the scenic wonderland that is near Oakland Avenue between Caniff and the Davison freeway gets much play, the neighborhood in which Clint's Pabst-swilling, racist character resides. Just as they do in real life, the old Detroit homes creak and yawn drunkenly, as do ghosts of industry past — the dilapidated store fronts, desolate pastures of overgrowth and shadowy monoliths of an abandoned factory or two, stand tough and stoic in inner-Detroit, much like Clint's character, a retired Ford factory man. And his car, the film's namesake, is a big shiny metaphor for days of yore when the economy bloomed and the world was a courteous, safe and clean place to live. Indeed, the Motor City was a fine setting. More, the movie's subtext of a rushing society ruined by greedy suburban Americans — where the only hope of spiritual salvation is through tolerance and the melding of cultures and religions — was a bit too convenient in Torino, the fake Hispanic and Asian gangs notwithstanding. And the movie's cornball let's-get-profound finale sees Clint in full-on Jesus pose, dying for the sins of others.
Neat stuff, truth be told, with popcorn and iced beverage in hand. Clint's a monster too. And Detroit is what it is, blown up on the big screen with old Dirty Harry.