Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Gran Torino"

So, here, Clint bring us a modern, more dramatic version of "Dirty Harry". My assumptions of this intent are evidenced a bit by the fact that there was a long advertisement for the "Dirty Harry" collection, meaning all 5 parts (I thought there was only one movie!) on DVD prior to the film starting. When I first seen the trailer for this, I thought it looked to be a bit weak, sloppy and self-indulgent, especially for Mr. Eastwood. After watching it, I found all three of these traits to be present, but generally it was very good film. Racist, so I thought, but very good.

Walt Kowalski1 (Eastwood) is a recently widowed Korean War veteran living in a Michigan suburb. He dreads the day-to-day interaction with his cold and distant family of sons trying to rush him to a funeral home and granddaughters waiting to steal his stuff when he dies. But things start to change when his life crosses path with the lives of a Hmong family (from which country it is never stated) next door when he stops their boy, Thao, from trying to steal his Gran Torino in the name of gang initiation. From then on, the bitter, gruff and grizzly voiced Kowalski2 finds his peaceful life of upkeeping his house and sitting on the porch with his dog more and more interrupted, but his connection with the Hmong family more and more strengthened.

The story ended up being a lot more in-depth and substantial than I expected it to be. I guess, the action hero in his retired life would be the proper theme to labeled this with. Eastwood's character still has that "make-my-day.....punk" energy, but now he'll only put a fresh hole in your head after he cleans his gutters, sweeps the porch, mows the lawn and fixes a neighbor's sink. A man constantly trying to find purpose for himself, big or small, in his day and age which takes place after a larger purpose for himself has incinerated to ashes and blown away in the wind3. All of this came across with great clarity and grabbed my sympathies immediately.

However, I think, when it comes to filming stories about foreign Asians, Eastwood cannot bring himself to see them as.....you know.....actual human beings or characters4. I did not see "Letters To Iwo Jima" but I was reading somewhere how his filming of the Japanese side of WW II in the story was a bit unfair and bias. In "Gran Torino", besides his character being a "lovable racist", there's no particular bias or anything but the Hmong characters are severely under-developed. It could be the lack of experience amongst the two main Hmong youths, Sue and Thao (this is the first time both actors, Bee Vang and Ahney Her, appeared in a film professionally), but it seemed to me like Eastwood was the only one following an actual script. The actors had no scenic rhythm, often repeated the same lines over and over, stumbled over each other in performance and had no real characteristics. Sue's intelligence peaked out a little bit, but Thao was a sloppy character altogether. In one scene he's afraid to speak up after being repeatedly insulted, in another he's taking it upon himself to touch things that aren't his, in another he's making demands and treating elderly people like they're fellow teenagers. In addition to this, there was about zero sympathy for his character. Yes, we know he did not have any direction in his life prior to meeting Kowalski, but he was nothing. Didn't like to play sports or read or write or....just.....didn't have anything going for him. Like he was some sort of..........Hmong stand-in instead of an actual person.

Generally, the movie was really good, though I would not say it was Eastwood's best. The whole duration of the movie (which is also the same amount of time Kowalski's face is on camera), it seemed to me that Eastwood just wanted to prove to the world that a sprinkle of take-no-sh** gunslinger still existed in his soul. The entire cast just lived in his shadow, and nothing even seemed to be of any real importance unless he was involved. A little self-indulgent if you ask me, but still worth watching.

1) -sky, makes me think of Buchinsky (Charles Bronson) for some reason.
2) Right. Never seen Eastwood play this role before. Never.
3) "Dust in the wiiiiiiind, all we are is dust in the wiiiiind" - Kansas - "Dust In The Wind" (1977)
4) Well......I mean.....he is Conservative.....but I digress.....


  1. Don't Feed The PixiesJuly 3, 2009 at 6:00 AM

    Interesting, because i thought the Hmong family were nicely realised and felt quite believable. Perhaps the gang members were a bit 2 dimensional?

    I agree that there is a lot of racism in the film: but the interesting thing for me was that each party seemed equally guilty of it in their own way.

    Yeah - i guess it was a bit self-indulgent...it must be difficult not to be when doing every damned thing on the film (sometimes you need someone present to say a quiet "no" to remind you that you're not god or something)

  2. I finally watched this. I liked it but was also disturbed (maybe because I work with refugees, who knows?) Anyway, there was this incredible site that discusses race and mainstream media that reviewed the movie and i found the dialogue fascinating. check out the website i think you'd like it http://www.racialicious.com/


What's your beef, sports fan?