Monday, January 19, 2009

You'll love Gran Torino so much you'll rush out and buy the theme song too...

That's what we did after seeing the outstanding Gran Torino anyway (well we downloaded it from itunes which is the same thing). Clint Eastwood deserves multiple Oscar's for this movie - Best Director, Best Actor and Best Song to name a few.

He gives a great performance (some would say of a lifetime), as he snarls, growls and frowns his way though the movie, with disdainful racial slurs tripping off his tongue effortlessly.
Gran Torino movie poster
Warning! The following contains major plot and storyline spoilers for the movie if you keep reading.

After the death of his wife, Walt Kowalski just wants to be left alone. His children want to move the disgruntled old Korean War veteran and ex-Ford car plant worker into a senior citizens community, but he has other ideas and literally throws his son and his wife out of his house. 

Walt (played by Clint Eastwood) is a miserable old curmudgeon who is set in his ways, with few redeeming features - he's grumpy, racially prejudiced and doesn't get along with his two sons, or even his neighbours and doesn't want to acknowledge the changes happening in the world around him.

He has no patience for religion or the local young Catholic priest, who his wife has asked to ensure that Walt goes to confession after she died.

Unfortunately for him, the widower's neighbours are a Hmong family who he dislikes on racial grounds, but also because he feels they show no respect for their property by failing to keep the house and garden well-maintained.

Teenagers Thao and Sue live next door and following pressure from his gang member cousin to join his crew, Thao's initiation test is to steal Walt's prized possession, his 1972 Gran Torino, which he keeps in pristine condition. However Walt catches him in the act and scares him off.
Gran Torino movie billboard
Walt earns the gratitude of his Hmong neighbours when he chases Thao's cousin's gang off his lawn with a gun and stops them from taking the teenager with them. They thank him with food and flowers left on his porch, which he quickly disposes of in the garbage.

Additionally after rescuing Sue from being harassed by three local black teenagers, she invites him to a family party and he gets to know his neighbours better and softens towards them.

As recompense to restore his family's honour his mother makes teenager Thao, or 'Toad' as Walt calls him, work off his debt to his gruff neighbour. To try and keep Thao on the straight and narrow he takes on a mentoring role, teaching him workman skills and gets him to clean up his local neighbourhood.  Over time he forms a bond with the boy and also helps him get a job at a local construction company.

We learn that Walt is deeply unhappy now that his wife has died and that he is seriously ill. With these facts and his growing friendship with the neighbouring family, the stage is set for him to threaten one of the gang members in an effort to protect Thao and for a seemingly inevitable brutal showdown.

In retaliation the gang drive by their homes, spraying them with gunfire and the worst happens when Sue arrives home, beaten, bloodied and traumatised from being raped. It's such a sad and poignant moment in the movie.

Rather than rushing out to seek revenge Walt calmly puts his affairs in order.  He goes to confession, gets his haircut and has a shave at his favourite barber's, buys a new tailored suit to be buried in, takes a long bath whilst smoking in his house (apologising for doing so to his adorable yellow Labrador companion Daisy) and then locks Thao up in his basement so he won't get involved in what he has planned.

For all his faults Walt shows that he's a good man at heart and sacrifices himself for his newfound friends.  You assume he'll go out guns blazing and kill each and every member of the gang in true Dirty Harry style, but instead to my genuine surprise the unexpected happens (you'll have to watch the movie to see just what that is).
Clint Eastwood Gran Torino movie poster
And even though it's fairly inevitable that Thao would end up with the titular 1972 car at the end of the movie, it's still a nice way for the story to end.

Initially I really wasn't that interested in seeing this film as I'd heard critics compare Clint Eastwood's performance with his iconic Dirty Harry role and saying it was return to form for him, so for me that wasn't especially appealing, but I was throughly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie.

Even though this film is sad tale, it is genuinely funny. A lot of the wry humour comes from the fact you can't believe that Walt is saying these clearly racial slurs out loud in this day and age, but you can't help but laugh at him whilst he's spouting these epithets from his mouth.  The audience I watched it with clearly loved the movie.

The acting is top notch from all the main cast and it's a great story, with a nice twist, thanks to your preconceptions about Clint Eastwood's gun-toting character. I give Gran Torino four **** stars and urge everyone to go see it for themselves before the Oscars to see what all the fuss is about.

I'll leave you now with some words of wisdom from good old Walt Kowalski:

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

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