Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gran Torino (2008)

Is anything year more terrifying than Meryl Streep in Doubt? Yes. His name is Clint Eastwood. He stars, directs, and even sings on the soundtrack of Gran Torino. In the film, he plays a badass racist old widower named Walt. He channels bits of Harry Callahan in his acting, but also shows a more tender side, √° la Frankie Dunn from Million Dollar Baby. At first glance, Gran Torino seems like a film about generational gaps, but rather it is about the similarities that different people share as an outspoken racist war vet, Walt, befriends his new neighbor: a troubled, misguided Hmong youth, Thao.

The meeting of these two characters revolves around Walt’s mint condition 1972 Ford Gran Torino: Thao attempts to steal the car in order to be initiated into a local gang. The gang is the cause of a few physical altercations and various other shenanigans in the neighborhood, most of which are stopped by Walt and his military-issue rifle. To repay Walt for the trouble caused, Thao’s mother orders him to work for Walt. Thao’s new chores include washing the Gran Torino. Blatant enough as the gesture is, Thao’s sister, Sue, feels the need to point out the irony. Little moments like this happen throughout the film and Eastwood crams the symbolism down the audience’s throat. I’m not saying that glaring symbolism is a bad thing, in fact I am in favor of it. The target audience (or the audience most likely to watch this film) seems to be predominantly Dirty Harry fans, and they might not be scouring the film for its hidden meaning. Eastwood makes sure that the audience can’t miss the morals of the story.

As the film progresses, Walt becomes more lovable. His racism seems to be an unchangeable part of him and he is simply accepted by his Hmong neighbors for who he is. His racist remarks aren’t taken personally, but it is rather seen just as a part of his vernacular. It is almost as if Eastwood is trying to say, “Love your racist grandparents. They’re probably just misunderstood.”

Another message Eastwood attempts to convey is that love is the only thing worth living for. In an emotional conversation with Thao, Walt talks about the love of his life, his late wife and how much she meant to him. Walt encourages Thao to go after the girl of his dreams lest he regret it later.

Eastwood’s score parallels the movie well in both the images and the themes. Whenever Walt grabs/loads/cocks his rifle, a militaristic drumroll begins to play. At first I felt the music was slightly clich√©, but it agreed well with the boldness and forwardness of the rest of the film.

Major Spoiler Alert
Click to read spoilers

Also embedded in the film is an awkward religious message. Walt refuses the religious advances of Father Janovich until the violence in the neighborhood escalates and “Thao and Sue will never find peace in this world as long as that gang’s around.” Walt finally listens to the priest and attends confession. Inspired (by God?), he now knows what he must do: sacrifice himself for the well-being of his new friends. He embarks on a suicide mission and ensures that the gang members are put away for his murder. Walt had no reason to live after his wife passed; he just needed to find a reason to die. The police find him lying on the ground with arms extended just like Jesus on the cross.

With Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood has added yet another fine film to his already outstanding career. It is a powerful and emotional film led by Eastwood’s terrifyingly badass portrayal of Walt. Through Walt, the film shows that just as insignificant personal differences can cause racism, they can also help to overcome it.

Grade: B

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