Gran Torino


Clint Eastwood is a strange director. How could a man who directed Blood Work immediately follow it with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby? And how could the man at the helm of A Perfect World also be responsible for Gran Torino?

Simply put, this film is embarrassing.

First of all, we have Eastwood playing a parody of himself.Gran Torino He wears high pants and grunts, grimaces and groans his way through his scenes, seemingly having no concept of the word subtlety. He plays Walt Kowalski, a crotchety old widower and Korean War vet who thinks the neighbourhood’s gone to hell and kids simply have no respect; not to mention the fact that the country’s being taken over by foreigners. Throughout the film this racist relic of the past is bound to learn a thing or two, and it comes from the Hmong family next door. Thao (Bee Vang) and Sue (Ahney Her) are a couple of bright young things trapped between the traditions of their elders and the violent and illegal habits of their peers.

This film is about as unsubtle as a half brick to the kneecaps. The script has many of the characters explaining their actions through gratuitous dialogue, and we know Walt never got over Korea, because when he gets angry the soundtrack is overwhelmed with the echoes of marching drums (I’m not kidding).

Gran Torino is actually a Western. A geriatric, suburban Western. Unfortunately it has trouble melding such a fantastical genre with the everyday here and now. We have police these days. And ambulances. And mobile phones. But you wouldn’t know it from this film.

The narrative’s inconsistent, and isn’t quite sure what point it’s making. Christopher Carley plays Father Janovich, an awful secondary character whose contradictory actions cloud every one of his scenes. Walt’s racism is apparently funny and endearing, and whilst I appreciate that this does belittle such bigotry in its own immature manner, I can’t see it as a positive technique. The best Gran Torino seems to come up with is the idea that if everyone is racist towards everyone else, then we have nothing to worry about… This of course is bullshit because it assumes that everyone is starting on an equal playing field, which is not only unrealistic, but incongruous since racism assumes some kind of superiority.

Gran Torino gets props for having an elderly man as its main character, something we rarely see in mainstream released flicks, but overall it’s a mess. There are good moments, and there are some decent laughs to be had (some more intentional than others). If this is indeed Eastwood’s final performance, it’s a pity. Let’s hope that his next film, Changeling, is better…

Rating: 2.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 31st January 2009
Hoopla Factor: 2.5 stars

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