Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gran Torino (2008)



There's something about an old, semi-senile man defending his property against 'outsiders' that instantly appeals to us. Clint Eastwood, fully aware of this, directs himself as that old man in Gran Torino -- and as cliched as the movie's storyline and character development are, he makes a gripping personal drama, in what is now this wonderful director's forte.

Gran Torino opens with the funeral service of the wife of Walt Kowalski (Eastwood). As his family file into church, we see Walt scowling at the families of his two sons, especially the brash grandchildren. He continues to snarl at everyone around him, including his new neighbors -- Hmong immigrants that remind him of his participation in the Korean war. He eventually befriends his neighbors and sets out to reform Thao (Bee Vang), the Hmong boy next door who tried to steal his '72 Gran Torino (a Ford vintage car).

As the movie unfolds, and we learn to understand Walt, Clint Eastwood starts establishing the rules -- and then religiously sticks to them. Though predictable, every event becomes a real experience for the characters, and through them, for the audience as well, making for a gripping drama that may as well have been a thriller. One scene, as Walt waits in silence at his neighbor's home for Thao's sister to return, is such a tense and nerve-racking sequence, that Walt’s subsequent actions become fulfillment of what the audience expects from him. Many such moments hit home because of the deft handling of a simple story by a master filmmaker.

Even though Clint Eastwood casts unknowns and first-time actors for most of the Hmong parts -- the lack of skillful acting sometimes being quite obvious -- he more than makes up for it himself, in what is purportedly his last onscreen performance. Old Walt is a man who doesn’t believe in God, and knows more about death than life. He regularly refuses to go to confession, and growls at everything outside the little world he lives in. But as he starts to connect to his neighbors, he learns about life, and through Thao and his sister, finally gets a shot at redeeming himself from the memories of the Korean War in which he served.

After over sixty starring roles, Clint Eastwood has thrown in the towel as an actor. But his work as a director over the past two decades has given us enough reason to not mourn over this loss in front of the camera. Yet, there’s this nagging feeling that this may not be the last we’ve seen of him. How many actors can you think of who'd win your sympathy after uttering “I'll blow a hole in your face then go inside and sleep like a baby”.

My rating --> 3.5 of 5

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