Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Review: Gran Torino

Year: 2008

Director: Clint Eastwood

Screenplay: Nick Schenk

Starring: Clint Eastwood

Synopsis is here

At first I really wasn't sure I wanted ...to see an elderly Clint Eastwood kicking minority ass up and down his front garden. Being black...I was thinking it's not really my cup of tea. At first glance the film almost comes across as ridiculous, with nearly every other word coming Clint's character (Walt) being an racial slur. A miserable old man who dislikes his own family almost as much than his new "gook" neighbours. He growls at everything he disproves of like DMX on an album remix.

After halfway through the first act....I was beginning to worry that this was some sort of piss take. Clint plays the role as an over the top embodiment of his earlier dirty harry roles and at first the display is amusing bordering on corny, but then something happens, everything clicks in and Eastwood's film becomes an entertaining metaphor for the grand changes happening in America. Walt becomes a representative of the U.S of old, almost reminiscent of John Wayne in The Searchers.

The environment is changing and Walt's not ready to fall in line with it just because a younger generation says so and although Walt is vile bigot, his willingness to stick to his principals is "admirable". But what made Gran Torino so appealing to me was the relationship Walt strikes up with his Eastern neighbours, it's one of compromise. A relationship that isn't perfect and never tries to be, but is pivotal to the enjoyment of the film. Eastwood directs the piece with a message that hits harder than the overt racist lines coming from it's lead. Eastwood's isn't about a shock change of views for anybody but a film about understanding. One that shows that looking at people from a different perspective, can bring about great things within each other.

Gran Torino is shadowed by one performance (we'll get to that) but don't let the messages within the film fly past you. One of the reasons I loved the film is that while the racist is the person we need to get behind, the film is never afraid to show the ignorance that can flow through people, including (and especially) those with youth behind them. Once that ignorance fades, then hope and change can begin.

Clint Eastwood has stated that this will be is last film and he will retire from acting. But two things make this difficult to believe 1: he said it after Million Dollar Baby, 2: His performance is a splendid one. Like I said at first the film almost comes across as a bit too much, sometimes it's a bit too comical, as if the film wants us to "laugh with the racist". But once the awkwardness subsides Eastwood's performance is captivating. It's an grand performance from an iconic actor. Whether he's threatening minorities or contemplating he own morality, Eastwood holds the attention in almost every scene.

Eastwood's performance carries the film and it has to as the other displays are largely forgettable. Maybe Eastwood the director wanted more of a "natural" performance from his unknown cast but it doesn't quite stick. In fact, the reason why I remember Ahner Her as Sue in the film is because she was quite pretty and being the geek I am, I'd rather see the acting first.

Another little niggle? The script feel a little forced. It helps that Eastwood can direct a story as well as he can as the screenplay would feel even worse if placed in lesser hands. The dialogue is amusing but is it because it's funny to laugh at such a man or because most of us is just not like that anymore? Are the plot points a little blatant? Maybe, but the story holds it's own, handles one of the western worlds most taboo subject with enough maturity to keep the viewer's attention and make it entertaining.

I'm still waiting for a film that deals with race relations as brutally as Do the right thing, however, Gran Torino is a solid little drama with a grand performance from one of cinemas hardest working directors and one of the our most memorable icons still living today.