Gran Torino (2008) ★★★★☆

“Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have messed with? That’s me.” 

Set in Michigan, Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a grumpy Korean War veteran, battles with the thought of adjusting to life after his beloved wife’s passing. Walt’s old school attitude complicates a broken relationship with his alienated son Mitch (Brian Haley) and his wife, Karen (Geraldine Hughes). A series of problems however, arise next door with a Hmong family. One of which is that a family member is determined to force another into gang culture, with or without his consent.

What starts off as a picture that’s very difficult to take seriously, soon transforms into something much more respectable. Eastwood has done it again – he has made a film that includes all the elements of a Best Picture. His direction is strong, also featuring a cameo appearance by his son Scott. Another thing that made this film so outstanding was the script/the dialogue – filled with witty catchphrases, primarily from Eastwood’s character, Walt. The facial expressions made by Eastwood very much added to this…grunting and growling in typical Eastwood fashion. Though underneath it all, he displays the subtle emotions necessary to give a believable performance. The supporting cast was well assembled, feeling more like real people rather than a bunch of actors playing a part. I must note: this is a film parable; it has no intentions to be a correct, true story…at least, that’s not what I took from it. The Gran Torino car however, represents Walt’s nostalgia for what he views as a ‘better time’, although that time is marked by death and horror. Thao attempts to steal the car, perhaps as an act of exposure, and for that he is punished.

Post-colonialism plays a strong part here, with the study of the Hmong community. Initially, there is a good deal of mistrust on both sides, though there is a gradual rapprochement between Walt and the Hmong community, due to the fact they are faced in a similar situation. Walt feels alienated from the society in which he was brought up due to the social changes which have occurred in his neighbourhood. The Hmong people are also alienated from their homeland, having been forced to leave it for political reasons. The older Hmong try to hold fast to their traditional culture, whereas several of the younger members of the community try to imitate American youth culture, and particularly gang culture. The representation of the American male is also questioned often; from stereotypes of barmy male hairdressers, the owning of a flashy car, to the old, traditional male role, (though commonly explored is taken into a much deeper territory).

All in all, Gran Torino is an undeniable crowd pleaser and an exceptional character study, as ridiculous as it is. Certainly very different from a typical film you’d come across in American cinema, but nonetheless both humorous and thrilling. A very rewarding part of this film wasn’t the violence as such, but instead about the consequences of it. The question is, how far would you go to protect someone you care about?

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