I had a few reasons to watch this movie. One, a good friend, Greg Spiegel, hadgiven this film his full endorsement on a number of occasions. Two, as some of you know, I’ve been a huge admirer of Clint Eastwood for as long as I can remember since age 8 or 9 I imagine when I saw his “Dirty Harry” films and even Fido Beddow in “Every Which Way But Loose” (and its sequel; those films are much better than maybe they are given credit for actually).
Eastwood matured as a filmmaker during the mid 80s and on into the present. He transitioned into films that delivered messages that sometimes even contradicted his past films as the gunslinger who never asks questions and always knew where to shoot. Films like “Unforgiven” and “A Perfect World” really showcase the tragedies of violence perfectly, and I think “Gran Torino” is worthy of being added to that list.
Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a racist Korean War veteran who never left the war he used to fight in. The war comes home with him 50 years later to his Michigan neighborhood where he seems to be the only caucasian American to live among a melting pot of other races; highlighted especially here are his Hmong neighbors who look past Walt’s prejudices to befriend him following his unintended gesture of protection from an intrusive gang. From there, Walt makes a bond with young Tao, a boy with no male influence in his life, and Tao’s sister.
Eastwood is probably the best director to direct himself. He knows how to position his camera and lighting, or lack thereof, to carve out the lines on his face and hide himself in haunting shadows to show a riddled history to Walt. He also adheres to similar themes that worked well in other films. A defiance to religion represented by a young minister looking to help Walt is reminiscent to the sarcastic approach Eastwood’s character used in “Million Dollar Baby.” The neglect of a protagonist’s family, and most especially, the connection of the pessimistic old man with the young child, barely adult, echos the Clint Eastwood/Hilary Swank pairing in “Million Dollar Baby” as well. I don’t mind if it’s a repeat actually. Relationships like these are hardly shown in films these days, and I think they are important. Films like “Harold & Maude” and “The Karate Kid” show that gaps in generations are not an excuse to separate ourselves. (Heck, I even attempted it when I wrote my play, “Arnie & The Itch.”)
Eastwood has great, uncompromising racial affection (yes those two words work nicely here) with his two Asian co-stars Bee Vang and Ahney Her, who are well cast in their own right.
Name calling is a method of maintaining a relationship in a film like this. The PC bandwagon is tossed out so the actors, especially the minority Asians, find something more wholesome to an old prejudiced coot.
The language is strong in “Gran Torino” but I say it’s an important film to show to many kids to learn of a neighbor’s tolerance; of what goes on behind a closed door or even if that neighbor sits quietly on his porch with a dog by his side and a beer in his hand. We learn of the roads they have crossed, the battles they have fought, and the accomplishments they’ve made. Learn from these people. Learn from the humanity they carry; the honest humanity that may look offensive on the outside yet is present due to a tormented history inside.
I could say “these whipper snappers with their phones” but it’s honest frustration. It’s hard to learn what a person really is by means of a handheld device. To learn about a person, you have to eat with them, work with them, speak to them and even appreciate their 1972 restored Gran Torino.
This was a great effort in performance and production from Clint Eastwood. I’m glad I watched it finally.