Tuesday, June 9, 2009

DVD Views: Gran Torino

Gran Torino *** ½ (2008)
Directed by:
Clint Eastwood.
Written By: Nick Schenk.
Starring: Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Bee Vang (Thao Vang Lor), Ahney Her (Sue Lor), Christopher Carley (Father Janovich), Brian Haley (Mitch Kowalski), Geraldine Hughes (Karen Kowalski), Dreama Walker (Ashley Kowalski), Brian Howe (Steve Kowalski), John Carroll Lynch (Barber Martin), William Hill (Tim Kennedy), Brooke Chia Thao (Vu), Chee Thao (Grandma), Choua Kue (Youa).

Clint Eastwood is on of the most iconic screen presences in history, and he knows how audiences perceive him when he comes onto the screen. Ever since 1992’s Unforgiven, Eastwood has been playing with his screen image - subtly subverting it at every turn. In his latest (and rumored last) film, Gran Torino, he goes further than he has ever has before and playing with his screen image. In the opening scenes in the film, Eastwood plays his image for laughs.

The film opens with Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) at the funeral of his wife of 50 years. His two sons, who he has always been distant with, are there, as are his grandkids, but Walt doesn’t really get along with them. The new priest of the church tries to reach out to Walt, but he’s not interested in that either. All he wants is to be left alone in his house to smoke, drink and wind down his life. But his Detroit neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. Chinese immigrants have started to take over the surrounding houses. Walt, who fought in Korea and has been haunted by it ever since, doesn’t see them as humans, but as a nuisance. But as long as they leave him alone, he’s more than willing to leave them alone. That becomes impossible when a local gang starts coming around and trying to get Walt’s young neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) to join them. Things get out of control one night, and Walt ends up coming to the rescue. This makes him a hero to the neighbors, and slowly, Walt starts to bond with Thao and his sister (Ahney Her).

There will be some that will complain about some of the aspects of the movie. For one thing, the supporting performances in the film lack in the necessary power. For another, the view of race relations in the film, and that of gangs, does not really feel real. It is rather simplistic at times (making something like Crash seem deep by comparison). And yet, while I will admit that these problems do exist in the film, I can’t help but admit that I loved the film all the same.

The main reason for this is Eastwood, as both actor and director. As an actor, Eastwood knows precisely how the audience views him, and slowly and subtly subverts his image. At first, he is a comedic version of the old Eastwood persona - he quite literally growls at a few points in the film. And for a while he acts like Archie Bunker, 30 years later. And all of this works brilliantly. When he finally gets out his gun, we think we know what is going to happen - Eastwood is going to ride into town and save the day. But Eastwood is not interested in simply repeating his old tricks, and the film changes the last act significantly from what we expect.

As a director, Eastwood continues his exploration of violence, its cause and consequences. Walt’s s experiences in Korea has affected each aspect of his life ever since. He was lucky enough to find a woman who understood and tolerated him, but his kids have never really liked him. Now that their mother is gone, they don’t really know how to relate to each other. He has lost his connection with the church, because his wife was the faithful one of the two. Now, all he really has is his friendship with Thao and Sue, and he is willing to defend that if necessary. His direction style has always been straight forward, and stripped down, and he continues that with his great work behind the camera here. He is not a director who covers up his lack of substance with an abundance of style. It is classical Hollywood style filmmaking, and no one does it better than Eastwood.

No comments:

Post a Comment