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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:Two Views of Gran Torino

Gran Torino
Directed and Starring Clint Eastwood
Michael Webb review

‘Oh, I've got one. A Mexican, a Jew, and a colored guy go into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, Get the fuck out of here.’

Let me start by saying something simple. This film delivers absolutely nothing new. The story of hard man turned good has been done over and again. Yet Gran Torino manages to give this well worn story a new vitality.

Clint Eastwood plays a Korean War veteran. His catholic wife has just passed away. Our protagonist is left in his house with his dog as the only companion. And who would happen to be moving into his neighborhood?
Well if you haven’t guessed it happens to be people from Korea.

Ok, so we can see where this is going already. Hard-boiled Clint Eastwood is going to give them a rough time for a while but will then turn out to like them. And all of his stereotypical views on these people will have vanished. We’ve all seen this kind of set up before.

But what makes this film is not the obvious outcome. It is the journey we see the characters go through. Eastwood’s character becomes rather fond of one of the Vietnamese children named Thao. Thao is unfortunate enough to be affiliated with a ruthless gang of which his older cousin is a member.

Thao is torn, as an adolescent going through a difficult period he is persuaded to try and steal Eastwood’s car. His prized Gran Torino.

As punishment he is forced to work for Eastwood for a week. This gives him time to befriend Thoa. After the week is complete Eastwood takes it upon himself to try and steer Thoa on the straight and narrow. A lot of comedy is derived from these sequences.

In fact it is in my opinion that Gran Torino manages to be quite comical throughout. Most of the comedy is manifested through racial difference. It is done completely tastelessly and extremely rudely. This however is what makes it controversial and therefore funny. I don’t think this film would have been received as well maybe even five years a go. I certainly appreciate the fact that people are finally becoming less politically correct so that we can enjoy these sorts of interactions between different races.

People might not like to see it. But this sort of race hate is happening all the time. And I for one think it is very admirable of this film to be dealing with those differences.

It is important to establish our protagonist’s relations with his own family. Eastwood clearly does not get a long with his sons and considers them to be selfish. This further isolates Eastwood from any human contact. It is almost as if he is adopting this Thao boy. Perhaps seeing his upbringing of his own boys to be a failure. How many people get on with their family really? Eastwood’s dysfunctional family is very modern and allows the majority of the audience to sympathize with the character. Perhaps making people look at their own family situation.
The ghosts of the people he killed in the war haunt Eastwood.
"We shot men, stabbed them with bayonets, chopped up 17 year olds with shovels."

An arrogant young priest is constantly visiting him. And is eventually persuaded to confess to his sins. The film is full of religious connotations. Most of which are fairly obvious.
Let’s look at some buzzwords and themes to sum up the Gran Torino experience.
It’s about change, it’s about faith and It’s about acceptance. I would recommend this film to just about anyone. It has character and heart. The ending is very nicely delivered and will probably come as something of a shock.

© Michael Webb May 2009 - Michael is studying drama at the University of Portsmouth


Gran Torino ... looking for the hero.
Josef Fiser

Once again I have read another review of this by many people adored movie and once again I have found almost no reason for this acclamation in it. It is just nicely done, some say. And it is not politically correct, add others. And Clint Eastwood.

Yeah, that’s about it. But the film is really good and above mentioned are not reasons for this. Not the main reasons anyway. So what makes it so special? What makes this one case of eternal archetypal story different? I think it is its hero. A hero who is very often forgotten by critics, a hero who, in the end, had been forgotten even by the scriptwriters; deliberately, I guess. In is not Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood). And it is not the useless "Zipperhead" Thao (Bee Vang).
Don’t get me wrong, they both are important for they are creating the necessary diversion. But there is something even more important in these old ancient stories than a simple hero - an actualization. The strange thing is – this one is maybe even more archetypal than the story itself.

There is a well known true – people like genre movies. They are easy to grasp and they sound always familiar. People always loved retellings of popular stories. And genre films give this to them. But a good genre film offers them something more, something new and surprising. In this case it is this forgotten hero (I hope you who have seen the film know already who that is). It is not the language, it is not the political incorrectness. It is not Eastwood’s acting (honestly, how could he ever surpass his younger ego in Sergio Leone’s films?). It is Sue Lor, Thao’s sister. She is the today’s hero, heroine. And maybe even all-time’s hero (Heroine. But who cares about gender correctness? We are talking about symbols...).

What is more heroic – to be rude all the time, then melt a little, have a best time of your life and die, soothing all your nightmares, and then take all the credit for it; or to try change the world around you a little, succeed in this effort, pay for it dearly and be forgotten? Walt Kowalski is the easy-to-identify-with type of hero, Euripides’s hero from Ancient Greek’s myths. Sue (Ahney Her) is some kind of the background hero, hard to identify with but showing the only possible way of actual today’s heroism. She is the one who changes Walt and Thao, she is the one who stays optimistic for most of the story although there is very little to be optimistic for. She drives the story. And she dies because of it, "dies" in a way she should be seen – as a symbol of change. Neither Walt nor Thao could represent this. It is a task for a different type of hero. And this girl is a representation of once-again-found hero of our times. And therefore she had to be forgotten again in the end, she had to stay unseen... I guess I should have not written this review...

Gran Torino is not a simple movie, not a simple story. It is just written to be perceived so. But all the little details, all the really interesting characters and stories in the background manage to affect the sub-consciousness of the audience (at least in my case they did so). The ability to hide something important and interesting in many ways behind the simplicity makes it more than a simple film about a simple guy. I just hope the creators had seen this in the first place. That it is not just a coincidence. Because, in the first case, we could have got (quite) new and more then capable scriptwriters (Nick Schenk, Dave Johansson). Otherwise we have got just one great movie. But hallelujah for that.

© Josef Fiser May 4th 2009
Josef is a writer living in Europe and occasional contributor to Hackwriters

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