Gran Torino (2008)
It was a toss-up between re-watching Unforgiven (1992) and Gran Torino (2008), the latter won by a clear factor, I’d not seen it yet. And I’m happy with my decision. I didn’t think Clint Eastwood could top himself after both Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers (both 2006) both emotional powerful and tender pieces of work. Gran Torino is a different beast that shows we are seeing a man then in his late seventies really understand his medium and not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. He has been known in the past for some hit and miss films, well with me at least, now on on winning streak for the last decade (ignoring J.Edgar (2011).
We begin at a low point in Walt Kowalksi (Eastwood) is is saying goodbye to his wife at a catholic funeral. A traditional man set in his ways whilst the rest of the world has moved on. His neighbourhood has changed in recent years, his new neighbours are Chinese, not his first choice by any means. Treating them with contempt and racial slurs. Ignorant of their culture and beliefs but can see just as them when it comes to street crime. Something that will not stand for, especially on his property, ready to pick up his gun and defend himself.
When a local Chinese-American gang begin to threaten and encourage neighbour Thao(Bee Vang) to join their gang it we see a gradual change in Walt’s approach to his neighbours, especially after his treasured car is threatened. It takes the open arms of Sue (Ahney Her) who challenges his ideas and perceptions, welcoming him into their house, partly out of gratitude for her family being saved from an encounter from the same gang. He gives in, having little choice really but to play the gentlemen. He begins to open up to the new culture whilst staying stuck on how he feels about the waste of space Thao who has yet to prove himself to be a man to him and his own family.
It’s the relationship between Thao and Walt that makes this film work, beginning to take the young man under his wing, first out of obligation, giving him jobs to do. Thao soon starts to prove his potential with a way still to go, to be a man who Walt can respect and even care for as a friend. Whilst local father (Christopher Carley) who wanted to stay true to Walt’s late wives wish fights even harder to be respected by Walt who time and again turns him away, believing he knows little about life. Someone who is starting out in life with blinkers on, unaware of the real troubles in life.
There are two men pushing themselves to be more to an older man who believes he is what it is to be a man, not afraid to show gangs he is not afraid of them, displaying a gun, one of metal, another just his hand like a child to the Indians in the playground. For Clint is a chance to reference his career in the westerns, the lone man facing the enemy, pulling the trigger of his gun with ease before blowing away the smoke from the end of the barrel to complete the job with bravado. Now in the suburban streets a veteran who has seen far worse dangers than thugs who believe they are all big and powerful.
It seems the older men of the three has the most growth in the film, although later on, he let’s go of his past perceptions, to protect those who are more vulnerable. Becoming not the role-model that others believe he will be, becoming a braver man. We all believe that its going to end as it has always done before, a round of bullets to the gang who have given everyone hell and some smart words. Instead we are given the ultimate betrayal as an audience, hurting us, breaking the rules of cinema. It takes the older man to break with tradition to show how it can be done, setting an example for others. That violence isn’t the answer to our problems. To be man enough to stand alone, becoming the stronger man, than standing behind a fun.
Much as it’s about becoming a man and taking on responsibilities and perceptions by society, there’s a car, that 1972 Ford Gran Torino, that allows a man to take off on his journey and course in life, full of many roads to choose from. As cliché as it sounds its true, once you are able to be independent, free from restraints you can make your own choices and grow. Something that can happen at any age.
A very male film that asks what it is to be a man, either to stand alone, taking responsibility for your actions, and self, at any age. If it means having a car or a massive collection of tools. To hide behind a gun that creates the illusion of power and masculinity. Eastwood by the time of this film is a master of his art, it takes his quiet sets to consider what he is making, which we see on-screen and enjoy all the more for his time on and behind it.
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