Posted August 1, 2010 by Alex Moss Editor in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Gran Torino


Clint Eastwood returns to his icon making tough guy routine and manages to show us that no one does Americana like him.

Gran Torino was to be, in his words, Clint Eastwood’s
last foray in front of the camera. Fitting that an actor who had
defined cinema with his hard-bitten roles would end, as he had started,
with his most growling performance and one that perfectly encapsulates
his iconic persona. That he would double up as director and create one
of his more tender films to date only emphasises the ability of a man
who has come to represent Hollywood in its purest form.

Walt
Kowalski’s (Eastwood) wife has just died and for the first time he is
lost in the world. Alienated from his materialistic sons his life is
thrown into further turmoil with the arrival of a Hmong family moving in
next door. Before long though the family, especially the teenage
daughter Sue (Her) and her brother Thao (Vang), have welcomed him into their lives and begin to coax Walt out of his self-imposed shell.

The first half hour of Gran Torino is a chance for Eastwood to show
the places people, in the melting-pot that is America, casually fit in
to. While the youth of today try to find their place in the world the
elderly begin to understand that theirs has been altered so as they no
longer fit in. Furthermore the racism that permeates through to every
walk of life defeats the idea of community in the United States. It all
fits to worrying effect before Eastwood systematically takes it apart
showing that most of the prejudice is merely judging a book by its
cover.

Despite the film being set in modern America, it ticks all the boxes
of a Western, the genre that created the Eastwood persona. You have the
racist undertones, the overly zealous religious impulse and the
brutality of the world that no law enforcement can control. It is a raw
and barbaric existence that can only be corrected by one man taking a
stand against those who look to oppress the freedom of the people. This is Eastwood toying with convention in such a way as to bring a perfect sense reality.

But it is not as heavy handed as say a Mystic River (2003) or a Million Dollar Baby (2004).
Gran Torino possesses risqué humour that is endlessly endearing. For
every racist slur or un-politically correct statement that Walt utters
there is always a sly nod to those that would judge. This is ‘how men
talk’ to each other in Walt’s world. Half of what he says is not
intended to offend but simply a form of communicating from a man raised
in a generation which had no idea of where the boundaries of
acceptability lay.

To cram so much sub-text and social commentary into a film could
easily have become preachy and overbearing but not here. If anything Eastwood intentionally under directs allowing his characters and their dialogue to paint the picture for him. Only when it is called for does Eastwood resort to genre specific framing, like the finale as a stand off that Sergio Leone (Once Upon A Time In The West) would be immensely proud to see Eastwood execute with such aplomb.

For
all his brilliance behind the camera, Gran Torino is a tour de force
for Eastwood in front of it. Walt is a perfect example of him playing on
his hard-bitten gruff leading man credentials. Here, he literally spits
out his lines and makes the simplest of groans convey more meaning than
most actors can do in a whole speech. It is like Dirty Harry retires
with his brilliant one-liners. When Walt begins to melt through
Eastwood brings vast warmth and subtlety to the role. The gravel voice
never wavers but the well-hidden grin and glint in the eye makes you see
that Walt has found the respect that he so anxiously craves. Eastwood
is ably supported by Vang as Thao as he gradually learns to adopt Walt’s
confidence. Ahney Her brings a great punch to Sue allowing Walt to
positively bristle at her sure fire ways. That all of the key roles in the film went so unnoticed, especially Eastwood’s, at the award season in 2008 is a tragedy.

Gran Torino will be released as part of the 35 Films 35 Years Clint
Eastwood box set and it is the perfect conclusion to an era of
performances from one of the most legendary actors of his, or any
generation. Once you have seen Eastwood as Walt it becomes clear why
this was his last acting role. He chews up the scenery with his
trademark bark and brings more gravity to the role than you could
imagine. Funny, warm and brutal only Eastwood could deliver all these
things in such a seductive manner. Like the car of the title Gran Torino
will go down as a classic.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com