International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film
Some films are just a collection of clichés. These films
can disappoint, they can comfort, they can bore, or they can turn
everything on its head and surprise us.
latest popcorn-promoting masterpiece, Gran Torino, seems to try to be
different by trying to be the same. The plot: American suburbia. The
issue: diverse cultures coming into collision. The romance: shy boy
meets stern man. Man makes boy more of a man. Boy makes man more of
a human. The characters: ethnic minority youngster, pimples and all;
Levi-wearing, beer-slurping harsh voiced Eastwood.
But Gran Torino does have a lot more to it than a selection of easily
recognisable storylines and stereotypical characters. It has Eastwood
for one. And perhaps what we can begin to see is Eastwoods real
agenda shining through. From the likes of Unforgiven (1992) and Bird
(1988), from the early days of Heartbreak Ridge (1986) Eastwood as an
actor-director seems to have developed an underlying interest in race
and society. His characters seem to have shared traits, shared pasts.
Walt Kowalski, a retired factory worker and widow, lives by himself
in a rough and ready neighbourhood of Michigan. We start the film at
a funeral his wifes. We slowly pace back to the wake and
meet his sons, both shallow and self-involved in a manner truly reminiscent
of American Beauty (1999). Walt (played by Eastwood) takes a walk outside,
and we go with him. We pan over the lawn and next door, a huge family
gathering of Hmongs (an Asian ethnic group from the regions of Southeast
Asia) passes us by. From behind the camera Eastwood (or is it Walt?
Eastwood is such a character in himself its hard to tell) sneers.
Someone approaches our front yard and we hear that almost cartoon voice
saying: "get off my lawn".
The film progresses to show the development from strangers to friends
of these two neighbouring houses. Some delightful scenes will make you
chuckle with laughter. Some lonely scenes will make you ache deep inside.
The film has a bittersweet addictive quality to it; something about
the streets of suburbia you just cant stop watching.
The casting is perfect for the films message: Eastwood is the
focal point of the story, and part of the story in himself. The Hmongs
characters are played mainly by non-professionals found in nearby Hmong
communities. The character of Thao (Bee Vang) is cast perfectly as a
shy but appealing boy. The cinematography is standard and seldom tries
to break waves. Eastwood isnt trying to win an Oscar here, he
just fancies telling a story from the heart. That a cinema lover can
watch this film and see in it so many others, and so many familiar characters
and stories from Eastwoods career, is the unique selling point
Gran Torino is the name of the car that Walt proudly keeps in his garage.
The kids in the neighbourhood envy it; Walt loves it almost as much
as his faithful dog. The Gran Torino is a classic old American car,
built from scratch by Walt himself during his fifty years at the Ford
factory. That Eastwood chose this to be the name and focal point of
the film says a lot, as much about the plot and morale as it does about
Eastwood and Walt themselves.
As I said, Gran Torino seems to try to be different by trying to be
the same. The problem: its been done before. The solution: we
all love Eastwood. The morale: a great film.
Gabriela Davies on two film
'Things we lost in the fire' comes as a clean break from the happy
endings we are used to. The narrative is strong, yet simple.
Alt views of Gran Torino
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