Thursday 15 December 2011

Similar But Different

Two films I've watched a while ago, with a week or two apart from each other; the similarity between them was not intended, but they both made me think and stayed with me for a while, which is what any good film should do.

The first one was "Lakeview Terrace" and the second one "Gran Torino". You can find summaries, lists of cast and production team etc. for both of them on wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet, but maybe they have not been compared like this before.

Let me start with what both films have in common:
A great leading actor (Samuel L. Jackson in "Lakeview Terrace" and Clint Eastwood in "Gran Tornio"), a main character who is bitter and lonely and has his life changed considerably through the moving in of new neighbours, and the big, big topics of racism and tolerance.

Each film deals with these topics in a very different manner, although from the start it is not obvious (at least not to me) in either which direction the plot is going to take, although a bit easier to guess in "Gran Torino".

In "Lakeview Terrace", Samuel L. Jackson plays a widowed police officer who works very hard to raise his two children, teenage daughter and younger son, alone. He keeps not only his own house spic and span, but also goes to great lengths to ensure his children have good manners, clean and wholesome entertainment, do well at school and not fall in with the wrong crowd. On top of that, he feels responsible for the safety of the whole neighbourhood, patrolling the surrounding streets on foot every night to check things are as they should be.
Sounds good to have such a respectable neighbour, doesn't it?
Well, the young couple moving in next door think so at first, too. But they quickly change their minds when they find out what a narrow-minded racist he is: he hates it that the African-American woman is married to a white man, he hates it that they enjoy each other's company (which leads them one evening to having sex in their own swimming pool, where they think nobody can see them) - in short, he hates the sheer sight of them.
And so he sets out to make their lives miserable.

Still, there are times when one can't help but sympathize with the man. There is a scene, for instance, where, as a police officer, he is called upon a case of domestic abuse in a bad part of town, and the way he handles that situation is, although rather brutal, admirable in a way and makes you believe in his good intentions - for a moment, until he goes back home and back on his crusade against the couple next door.

One thing leads to the other, and all attempts of talking and reasoning go horribly wrong, until the big escalation. I am not going to tell you how it really ends, but it does not end well, and leaves you sad and wondering why this man did not appreciate the good things he had achieved in life, all because he could not overcome the mental barriers he had erected around himself.

In "Gran Torino", we have another widower who hates the sight of the people moved in next door: Clint Eastwood is bitter and lonely, with his grown sons living elsewhere and only turning to him when they need something, his grandchildren showing no affection at all, and his best friend being his old dog - and his Gran Torino, a classic car he built with his own hands when he was still working.

The new neighbours are an Asian family, and the old man sees them through the distorted glasses of racism - until, completely involuntarily, he saves the fatherless boy from gang criminality and becomes, against everything he stands for, the hero not only of this family, but of their extensive clan of friends and relatives, too.

As the events unfold, so does the old man - he becomes more approachable and strucks up an unlikely friendship with the boy and his sister. Some terrible things happen, and the old man understands there is only one way he can give this family back their peace, and at the same time create a realistic chance for a better life for the boy.

Dramatic situations call for dramatic means, and Clint Eastwood's character chooses the most dramatic means of all. The result is as planned, and the film leaves you sad but also hopeful that not all racists are so firmly set in their minds that they can not change, and change the lives of those around them for the better, too.

What I also like about "Gran Torino" is the way it deals with the subject of getting old. It takes courage to look and act like an old man - especially when you ARE an old man, as Mr. Eastwood certainly is.

Whether you watch just one or both these films, let me know your opinion on them, please.


  1. Hello:
    Well, we have seen neither of these films although we have heard of 'Gran Torino'. We have very much enjoyed reading what you have to say about the films individually and in comparison with each other and are now intrigued to find out more. As you say, the themes covered in these films are both significant and disturbing, so it is perhaps not surprising that one will not feel entirely comfortable either during or after the performance. We shall see!!

  2. Jane and Lance, thank you, I am glad you liked my comparing review (normally, I am not one to make comparisons, but this time, the similarity was just too striking to be ignored).

  3. Hmmm. I'm now intrigued. I don't usually 'do' emotionally challenging movies because I have found that real life is challenging enough without my entertainment challenging me too. However sometimes I do watch a film which challenges my emotions and if I see these in the video rental shop I may well be tempted. I'll let you know.

  4. You are right about life being challenging enough, GB, and that is maybe why I have never quite become much of a movie person. Still, I think some are worth watching, but not everybody will "see" in them exactly the same. Just like books, only that books engage my mind more creatively and usually take more than 90 minutes to be "consumed" :-)

  5. Hello, I have seen both these movies. And like you I thought the characterization of both protagonists were complicted and fascinating, tho I liked Gran Torino better. I was surprised at the end and did not expect it to be so violent, but its a very violent area.
    In the other movie, what I thought was interesting is that the situation with the neighbor (S.L. Jackson) caused the interacial couple to question themselves and their affection for eachother, it got right to the core of racism. My husband likes these movies alot, I like to drag him to things like Downtown Abbey and Harry Potter which he enjoys once he shifts gears! But then I enjoyed particulary Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. There are many men of his characters flaws and strenghts I have met and he played it perfectly.
    You are a good movie critic!

  6. Thank you, Julie, how very kind of you to say that! I, too, liked Gran Torino better. In "Lakeview Terrace", at times I even thought "it is their fault" for a fraction of a second when the couple brought a new attack from S.L. Jackson's character on by their behaviour, which I suspect was the intention - to see both sides, to try and go beyond our normal thinking patterns and see fifty shades of blue where sometimes people see only black or white.