Thursday, 26 March 2009

Gran Torino Review

Clint Eastwood has said that Gran Torino is his last acting role. I hope it isn’t because this is a man who is a delight to watch on screen. I have literally grown up watching Clint Eastwood’s movies - from the wonderful spaghetti westerns to ‘Dirty Harry’. From the buttock clenchingly climactic scene of ‘Unforgiven’ to the underrated ‘Perfect World’ - I always see a Clint movie. And why? Because this man is a genuine movie star and a great director. The words ‘movie star’ were coined with actors like Clint in mind. When you watch this man on screen, he tears it up and makes every scene his own. His career has had as many ups and downs as a rollercoaster but, like many of the characters he plays, he has shown a resilience to continue trying to perfect the art form that made him a household name. Right, I think that’s enough hero worship for now. Time to review the film!

First off, the advertising for Gran Torino is a little misleading. If you’re expecting a geriatric Dirty Harry, you’ll probably be disappointed. I laughed more in this film than I have in many of the recent comedies I have seen. The story is a familiar one and, in many respects, Clint is on safe ground. It basically revolves around recently widowed, racist and grumpy Walt Kowalski who finds himself living in a neighborhood of Hmong immigrants. He is a bitter, angry and very resentful man (sounds like me) spending his days pottering round his home, drinking, swearing, scowling and growling (I kid you not). He has little in common with his sons and seems to show no love at all for his grandchildren (although they are pretty disrespectful). The turning point in the film is when Thao, the teenage son of his neighbor attempts to steal his 1972 Gran Torino. To be fair to the boy, he is pressured into the stealing as an initiation (but it’s still no excuse really). Unfortunately for Thao, Walt catches him in the act. The gang pressuring Thao into the theft go a little nuts and start to attack him and his family and are stopped by Walt and his ancient Korean War rifle. This intervention makes Clint a local and reluctant hero. Thoa’s mother and sister insist that Thao work off his debt to Clint by working for him and this leads to an unlikely friendship between the two of them. It also shows the loneliness that Clint’s character feels and the warmth he is capable of – despite his persistent use of racist language and his grumpy exterior. The development of the friendship is critical to the film’s success and is managed masterfully and provides ample opportunity for laughs. When the turning point comes – it’s swift and brutal leading to the inevitable showdown.

The film is not without criticism – the supporting actors are not great. Their performances are very patchy. To be fair, they’re not actors and Gran Torino is their first film. Clint wanted to have a genuine feel to his movie and make regular people comfortable enough to be filmed. While this is laudable and works for the most part, there are some cringe worthy scenes that fall pretty flat. If you can get past this shortcoming the film works – and it works well. It’s funny, touching, poignant and ultimately satisfying. Oh, and there is that gorgeous Gran Torino. It’s as old as me and, some might say, just as sexy. Ahem.

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