Gran Torino: a review

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A film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, distributed by Warner Bros. In cinemas now

Gran Torino is produced and directed by Clint Eastwood and he is also the star of the film, but this may be the last Clint Eastwood film.

The film follows his lifelong theme of the lone hard man against the world. It is about life and death, but also about race and racism in the modern United States, gang warfare, bullying, manhood, conscience, memory, family and lost love.

Eastwood plays the widower, Walt Kowalski, who has just lost his wife of 50 years. Walt lives in a mid-western community which 50 years ago would have been white Anglo-Catholic but now is mixed-race, with Blacks, Hispanics, and next door to Walt, Hmongs who migrated to the US after the Vietnam War.

Walt, who once worked in the Ford factory building cars, finds the past a more comfortable place to be, and can’t understand why so much change has happened so quickly around him.

But beneath his tough, gruff exterior is a man haunted by the men he killed in the Korean War.His grandchildren don’t even know where Korea is.

Walt is also a fair man despite his racism and prejudices. He won’t see anyone bullied or tormented, and the gangs who try to torment his neighbours more than meet their match in Walt.

Through a series of events and insights Walt comes to know and understand his neighbours, particularly their son, a lost soul in a hard world struggling to shape his masculinity, desperate to avoid being drawn into an ethnic gang.

Walt becomes closer to his neighbours than to his own Anglo-Catholic family, particularly his self-centred grandchildren, who openly eye off his possessions anticipating his death.

Walt has a difficult relationship with his two grown-up sons. He says he could never talk to them, and didn’t like them much as people.

He doesn’t like anyone much, really, and has a rough use of language that could offend viewers who prefer political correctness.

But those who understand Walt, his barber and his priest can match him word for word and see beyond his harsh exterior to a tormented soul beneath.

Walt’s only companion at home is a pale yellow Labrador, Daisy, who right on cue, and probably in response to instruction off set, expresses appropriate emotion and affection for Walt.

The story builds to a climax of atonement and redemption, sacrifice and resolution. Hard men teach hard lessons.

Gran Torino is an essay on current America. Mixed-race America and the tensions that go with it.

America living through atonement for imperialism. The soldiers of imperialism left with their memories of battlefields, villages, hamlets, massacres, and the pain of conscience over what they were called to do, and what they did without orders from above.

Walt Kowalski’s America is dying, but Eastwood shows us his version of a mixed-race America that can work if only Americans of whatever ethnic background, let it work.

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One Response to “Gran Torino: a review”

  1. Gary MacLennan Says:

    Well I enjoyed this review. It was political and committed but at the same time mercifully free from left cant and jargon.

    I think the key elements in the film are firstly family and that in the sense that the best families can be the non-biological ones.
    The second is guilt and the possibility and achievement of redemption. The third is the symbolical passing on of the baton – the car – to a “new” American. In a sense that is a recognition of the total failure of the Anglo-American dream.

    regards

    Gary

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