Knight at the Movies Archives
Eastwood is back, so is Hoffman (paired with Emma Thompson) with two films worth your attention
Boy that Clint Eastwood sure keeps busy for a 78 year-old.  This year alone he’s directed Changeling and now he directs and acts (for
the first time since 2004’s
Million Dollar Baby) in Gran Torino.  I think its his best film since Unforgiven when he was a mere 62 –
certainly it’s emotionally satisfying, drawing as it does on a host of vigilante films, including many of Eastwood’s own.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a surly racist Korean war vet who hates his Asian next door neighbors.  Walt has recently lost his wife
and no surprise due to his cranky ways, is estranged from his two sons and his grandchildren.  When a young priest tries to offer him
condolences and befriend him, Walt just about tears his head off.  All he seems to want to do is take care of his lawn, lovingly wax
his 1972 Gran Torino and sit on his porch drinking one beer after another.  Walt’s Detroit area neighborhood has changed
dramatically and the influx of H’Mong residents has done nothing to soften his temper and racist attitudes.  When the teenage son
next door tries to steal his prized Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation Clint pulls out the shotgun and goes all Grandpa Dirty Harry
on his ass and barks, “Get off my lawn.”

But he don’t mean it and soon the lonely old coot’s friendly with the neighbors, eating their grub and keeping the teenage kid busy
with odd jobs.  Everything’s hunky dory until the vicious gang stages a drive by and guess who decides to make with some magnum
force action?  The picture’s a good mix of a culture clash, young vs. old and a satisfying vigilante story to boot.  Eastwood gets
excellent performances from the young, unknown Asian and with his gruff voice which sounds like he’s chewing on sandpaper,

41 years after
The Good, The Bad & the Ugly, Clint’s memorable Man with No Name character seems to have evolved from Mr. Macho
into Mr. Softy – sorta.  
Gran Torino is a movie worth taking for a test drive so make my day and go see it.


It’s also been 41 years since Dustin Hoffman dazzled the world with his startling debut in Mike Nichols’ classic
The Graduate.  Hoffman
has given one tremendous performance after another in numerous films.  His most memorable parts have been made so because
of the character’s intractability or inherent feistiness but somehow he always seems to make these disagreeable, argumentative
types understandable and in some cases, loveable.  In
Last Chance Harvey, a July-December romance, Hoffman pulls the rabbit
out of the hat one more time.  Joined by the always welcome Emma Thompson, the film, though not quite the crowd pleaser one
had hoped for, is nonetheless a good solid dramedy made worthwhile by the lovely performances of these two pros and its focus on
late life concerns.

Pairing anyone with Thompson is always a good idea.  Her work here as a forlorn single lady of a certain age (read: old maid),
resigned to her thankless job as a survey taker in an airport terminal, the endless, nosy/nagging phone calls from her mother
(Eileen Atkins), and her solitary life begs the question, “Why hasn’t she made more movies?”  Perhaps because Thompson
underplays so beautifully that her seamless technique is easily overlooked.  With a showier role she can annihilate with as little as a
raised eyebrow and a single syllable (as in
Nanny McPhee and the more recent Brideshead Revisited) but her exquisite technique works,
too, with a more reserved character.  Here, she offers insight into the character simply by the way she holds her romance novel while
sitting on a train or the way she nervously balances a wine glass.  Give her an acting partner like Hoffman and the results are

The plot follows Hoffman, a jingle writer who has fallen out of step with “the kids” and insists on doing things the old way; a man who
dreamt of being a jazz pianist and still regrets the musical road not taken.  Hoffman, his job on shaky ground because of his
unwillingness to bend, heads to London for the fancy wedding of his daughter.  There, it quickly becomes clear that for years he’s
been an out of touch father, distant from the daughter.  In the breach, Hoffman’s ex-wife (Kathy Baker) and second husband
(James Brolin) have picked up the slack and at the rehearsal dinner this is immediately, awkwardly apparent.   Having botched
things, he heads back to the States immediately following the wedding but after the double whammy of missing his flight and being
told he’s been fired, he heads to the airport bar for a cocktail.  There he encounters Thompson and the rest of the film plays out as
these two lonely hearts spend the rest of the day and evening together, slowly finding themselves emotionally renewed in the
process.  As the film wends its way toward the climax both the characters, each riddled with regret, gets their moment to espouse
those regrets in a long monologue and both Hoffman and Thompson do their stuff with a minimum of fuss.

The familiarity of the story, its characters and the through line are the movie’s biggest drawbacks – we’ve seen this arc many, many
times before – though Hoffman and Thompson do their best to quietly overcome the slightly stale taste of the film’s plot.  Also on
the plus side, it’s a gentle, contemplative movie focusing on characters at the autumn of life and as such, though not quite the
laugh riot the premise promises, is refreshing in refusing to digress into toilet humor and one-liners.  Hoffman even plays some
beautiful original jazz piano (one composition, based on Satie’s Gymnopodies is gorgeous) and every time Thompson flashes one of
her rare smiles the sun comes out.  Reason enough to give
Last Chance Harvey a fighting chance at the box office.
Lions in Winter:
Gran Torino-Last Chance Harvey
Exclusive 1-14-09 KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.