Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gran Torino

This Is For Your Lawn

You know Clint Eastwood means business when he stares down at you with those steely eyes, and his rumbling, booming voice tells you to either make his day, or to get off his lawn. Either way, only a fool would want to stand his ground, with anyone else preferring to back off and never cross the man again. Having a weapon pointed straight at you adds to needless convincing too.

It's a somewhat different role of Clint's that I've seen, not that I've seen all. Here he takes on both directorial duties as well as the lead role, where he plays an unsavoury character, a very angry, racist man who doesn't mince his words to tell you in your face just what he thinks of you. And pepper that with plenty of personal insults laced with fluent vulgarities while at it. Words like gook, spook and unflattering nicknames come flying, and he gets away with it because he's an old man, and second, that weapon he always packs nearby.

A Korean War veteran, the film opens with the funeral of the wife of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), and we learn that he doesn't get along with his sons and their family, and just about everyone else besides his dog Daisy. He finds the persistent young priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) a real pest, and his Asian neighbours nothing but noisy trouble. His twilight years is spend fixing things given an impressive tool house, where his prized possession of a 1972 Gran Torino is kept in. A gang initiation heist of his vehicle goes wrong, and he strikes up a father-son relationship with neighbour Thao (Bee Vang) and his sister Sue (Ahney Her).

It's a great character study of how a man can change, given that, and I think I've overused this phrase, this is a world without strangers, only friends we never met. While he begins as a very hardened man, Walt's relationship with the Hmong community slowly softens him up to accept differences, despite having started off on the wrong footing. And while he harbours some deep resentment, hatred, and pain that he locks away, the two Hmong children become the children that he never had, given his estranged relationship with his sons (not that they are angels to begin with), with new found respect from Thao and Sue because they find that he's their cool guardian, and so does everyone within the neighbourhood who showers him with gifts after a valiant and successful attempt in fending off the black sheep of their community.

Gran Torino has classic Clint Eastwood direction – assured and very economical in movement and technique, never showy but packs a punch whenever it needed to wear its emotions on its sleeve. It's really tough not to laugh along at the banter of barbed insults traded, and all conversation between Walt and his barber Martin (John Carroll Lynch) will test anyone without a sense of humour to chuckle at how only such statements made could be done so between buddies, as Thao learns the hard, but hilarious way. It's not a comedy of course, because trust Eastwood to sucker punch you when you least expected it to, and I absolutely love how he manages to lead you on with hope everytime you feel the notion that things have past beyond the point of no return, and shake things up a little just as you get too comfortable.

It's somewhat a pity that this is possibly the last movie that Clint Eastwood would star in, preferring I guess to being behind the camera rather than in front of it. If Gran Torino is anything to go by, I still feel he has some legs to go on doing both. He never ceases to amaze me at the boundless energy he has to continually craft some critically acclaimed movies, and Gran Torino firmly stands tall in his filmography. Definitely highly recommended, and goes into my books as one of the contenders for my list of favourite films published at the end of the year.

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