Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Gran Torino

A belated review of one this decade' s most powerful films.

Until last night I was probably the last person left on this planet who'd not watched Clint Eastwood's most recent effort Gran Torino. And shame on me, may I add, as it most definitely counts as one of this decade's most powerful pieces of entertainment. Thought-provoking, challenging, touching and with humorous undertones, it beggars belief that Eastwood was so totally snubbed at the 2009 Academy Awards with zero nominations.

In what was heralded as his last acting role, Clint Eastwood is absolutely superb in his interpretation of grumpy 78-year-old badass and Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski. Walt is a former Detroit assembly line worker and his mood is permanently foul. The world is changing fast, right in front of his eyes, and the general picture doesn't look good either. His vintage 1972 Gran Torino car (a symbol of Detroit's bygone industrial era) and his pet dog Daisy are his only company.

The recent death of his wife, the communication breakdown with his two sons and his hostility to the rapid ethnic and social changes of his decaying neighbourhood are amongst the demons and the baggage Kowalski's got to confront - a number of factors that make him come across as a bitterer, third age version of Lost's Sawyer, including a suberb selection of one-liners and bigoted put-downs.

However, Gran Torino is no moralising pap. There is no grand design to preach or pontificate. There's the story of a man consumed by prejudice who gradually comes to realise that each person's or family background can only be understood individually. Because in the end, Gran Torino's baddies are still gangs comprised of second or third generation immigrants. But, as Walt Kowalski finally recognises, other immigrants (such as his next door neighbour) are the most honest, loyal and kindest people he's come across in an awful long time and it is them, in fact, who've fallen prey to local gangs.

On a more personal level, the same Walt Kowalski who failed to establish the most basic interaction with his direct family, finds true friendship with both Theo and his sister Sue Lor. "God, I've got more in common with these gooks than I have with my own spoiled-rotten family", he quips at some point.

Old and ailing, Kowalski realises that time's up, both for him and for the world he's known, but there's a thing he's got to do if he wants to right the wrongs of his life. Without elaborating plot details, I will only say that, for all its ugliness, racism and violence, grit and drama, Gran Torino is a film to cherish, with Eastwood confirming his status as one of Hollywood's both greatest actors and directors. 10 out of 10, without question.

No comments: