Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A great film - 'Gran Torino'

Gran Torino
A movie with a message – to make you think about life and death, living and dying, ‘Gran Torino’ (116 minutes) does all that.

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), a retired car worker/Korean War veteran has just buried his wife, and sees the indifference of his family and the shallowness of her eulogy. Arriving home in a run- down quarter of Detroit, and still sore, he’s met by the folks next door, a Vietnam family.

Walt doesn’t take kindly to foreigners, kids – anybody, pretty much, but he acts to protect them from a gang of young thugs, even though it’s really just his own peace he’s looking out for. The family lavishes unwanted gifts of food and flowers on him – still he doesn’t like them.

Showing how immigrant kids can go wrong, the film has rival gangs doing the dozens and mouthing off before trying to get the young Thao (Bee Vang) on side, forcing him to steal or vandalize the Gran Torino in Walt’s garage.

Walt thwarts the attempt, and sounds off at the boy. Later, when the boy is assigned to do chores for a week as atonement, the old man teaches him about life – about how men talk to men, and how things work generally.

He’s invited into the house to eat with the family and is sort of adopted by Thao’s sister, Ahney Her (Sue Lor). The gangs get rougher and rougher on the two kids until hard man Walt roughs it up and the gang retaliate – shooting at the family home, beating up Thao and raping his sister.

Here you might have expected Walt/Clint to wade in with guns blazing, but instead he locks the boy in the garage and goes off to confront the gang alone. Surrounded by the silence of frightened neighbors, producer and director Eastwood makes the film end on an entirely unexpected and ultimately more meaningful note.

Eastwood’s performance as a vet that has lived with the horror of killing since the 50s and finds redemption and (for the padre at any rate) salvation is masterful and totally convincing.

Notable too are all the main characters – villains, grandmother, barber, and all. This film works primarily because it rings true, not because it uses graphics to great effect or goes the whole nine yards with action. It is precisely its lack of shoot-outs and car chases that makes it more of a drama, less of a spectacle.

I came out thinking about what I had learned about living and dying, about some of the roots of our social ills, which is always better than coming out deafened and partly blinded by cinematography.
Robert L. Fielding