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Review: Gran Torino

I’ve been a bit lax with these in the last few weeks, just coasting on link-blogging, which isn’t terrible, but of course, there should be more.

Saw a preview of Gran Torino not too long ago. In what might just be Clint Eastwood’s acting role (although I fully see him working to 100 now), he plays an ageing Korean War veteran and ex-auto assembly worker Walt Kowalski — pretty much all the forgotten people of America rolled into one. His family have largely abandoned him (for many good reasons though), and his neighbourhood is now mostly Hmong immigrants. He refuses any interaction with them, crouched in his racism, anger and bigotry, but a series of events that starts with his wife’s death start to change all that.

Gran Torino, broadly speaking, is really a western — like so many of Clint’s classic roles. It’s a cross between A Fistfull of Dollars and Dirty Harry, decades later, with Clint gradually getting to know his neighbours, and then defending them from a street gang of scumbags who want to recruit his young neighbour. When the young Hmong kid next door Thao (Bee Vang) is baited into attempting to steal Walt’s classic Gran Torino car as a gang initiation, Walt stops him, but then unwillingly allows him to pay off a debt by working for him. Thao is a good kid, but quiet, shy and weak-willed, being bullied by everyone from his family to the gang. Walt gets to know the kid better than his own family, and not only teaches him how to work, but how to defend and stand up for himself. But then the final confronatation with the gang changes everything for them.

The story is both well done but also predictable at times. It certainly doesn’t make it bad, because it gives it the classic western structure of growth, redemption and selfless service, where the “stranger” helps the townsfolk he doesn’t even like to begin with. Clint is excellent in a role you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing, and the largely inexperienced Hmong actors also work well, though the two young leads seem somewhat stilted in their delivery at first, though they get better as the story progresses. The drama can be dark and grim at times, with death, suffering and the mental horrors of war high on the agenda, but there’s also some very funny moments as well (look out for the scene where Walt takes Thao to his barber shop).

The ending is again somewhat predictable, but still poetic and fitting for the story. Gran Torino is a crowd-pleasing story that is immensely satisfying even with some faults, and is certainly recommended for god solid cinema viewing.

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