Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gran Torino

Gran Torino; drama, USA, 2008; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley

Walt Kowalski is a retired Korea War veteran who has prejudice against Asians in Michigan. After his wife died, he is left alone in his house, while his son lives with his family in another town. One night, Thao, a teenager of the Hmong people and his neighbor, tries to steal Walt's car, the Gran Torino. Walt stops him thanks to his gun, but later finds out Thao was forced to break in because of a local gang. As a punishment, the family orders Thao to work for Walt for a whole week. Walt makes friends with Thao and his sister Sue, and even helps them stand up against the gang. However, after the gang uses guns, Walt goes to their place and tricks them into shooting him, thereby inevitably putting them behind bars and saving Thao.

A retired 'Dirty Harry' in an anti-racist essay - after his overhyped (and melodramatic) films "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby" started to show a tendency of standard filmmaking, Clint Eastwood returned once again in great style with this excellent, intimate and unpredictable drama that flows smoothly and is subtly emotional. Walt Kowalski is at first a seemingly stereotypical Eastwood character - he is tough, stubborn, cynical (when surprisingly many people show up at his wife's funeral and subsequent meal, he just comments with: "I guess they smelled the ham") and presumes everyone a nitwit at even the slightest misunderstanding (the 77-year old Walt has to go to the basement to get more chairs for the guests in his house, but when his granddaughter half-heartedly asks if she can help, he just says: "Don't bother, you just had you nails polished"; when a young priest keeps bothering him to make a confession, Walt cannot resist to say: "I think you're an overeducated 27-year old virgin who likes to hold the hands of superstitious old ladies.") - but as the storyline progresses, he turns out into a complex, honorable and fair person with a heart. The main tangle - Walt's friendship with his Hmong neighbors, which destroys his racism - is built incredibly even, and even subversive ideas (Asian "takeover" of America; an African-American teenager being racist toward the Asian girl Sue) are knitted carefully into the story, whereas Walt's final showdown with the gang seems almost like an upside down ending of Eastwood's own "Unforgiven". A small jewel here is Ahney Her as the clever Sue, who has more than a fair share of a clever persona (when a member of the gang, about her own age, asks about her, she says: "Mentally, I'm way too old for you").


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