Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Gran Torino

 

Review by Eoin O’Faolain

They say they don’t make movies like they used to.  Indeed, you’ll hear many who claim we’ve come to a creative impasse, our stream of originality having run dry years ago, dooming us to a life of recycling. Clint Eastwood is a man who bemoans modern cinema with the best of them, and has always tried to make “classic” films, such as the crime drama Mystic River, or the Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby. His new film, Gran Torino, is a film about tradition, about the old ways, and whether they really are worth reliving.
In Gran Torino, Clint (in possibly his last acting role) plays old Walt Kowalski, recently widowed and refusing to move out of the increasingly Asian-based underprivileged neighborhood.  Walt gets unwillingly involved in the affairs of his neighbors, a Hmong family, and particularly the son, Thao, who is being harassed by a Hmong gang. As Walt begins to warm up to the “gooks”, he realizes that the gang is a serious threat, and plans to deal with them once and for all, despite the limpid moralizing of the local priest.
Like many a “classic” story, this is the tale of culture and generation clash, with those differences being blurred through a common goal, or in this film, and enemy. So the plot sails along at a pleasantly predictable pace. And that’s not to say that there’s no enjoyment along the way, as crotchety ol Walt spouts racist quips with a few anti-youth jokes in the mix.
However, lying within this film is a sense of racism, lying on top of a deeper layer of meaning which holds nothing but contempt for modern society. For as the film seems to suggest, it takes a 70-year old war vet to sort out the modern troubles of an immigrant family. In one scene, Clint confronts a bunch of young African-Americans who are in the way of Thao’s sister, Sue, and talks the talk (and brandishes a gun) enough for them to back off with fear in their eyes. Now while that may be somewhat true, more often than not the bravado in disenfranchised neighborhoods usually overcomes any sense of safety.
In fact, the film feels more like an ego-trip for an aging Western actor. Walt’s children are soft, fat, and money-infatuated white collar family men. And returning to the issue of race, it seems that a bit of force and sacrifice is all it takes to save the day. As much as the film tries to understand the culture of the Hmong, it only succeeds in showing them to be utterly incapable of resolving their own situation. And while this may be true in certain cases in reality, in the world of cinema what do we really get from seeing an OAP beat the baddies (in the most hackneyed act of labored poignancy I’ve seen in years, I might add)?
Gran Torino may be a classic film in its themes and narratives, but ultimately it’s a classic act of self-aggrandizing that offers us little more than the idea that violence will create a problem, and also solve it.
2 / 5 stars

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