Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gran Torino (2008)

The United States is often considered to be a melting pot for a vast variety of races and cultures found across the world. As our country slowly begins to show signs of unification, the future holds great promise for a more cohesive, diverse nation. There are, however, many citizens who have trouble adapting to the new changes occurring in our country. They choose to ignore those who might threaten their lifestyle, and they continue their bigotry in hope of conserving the ideas and values they were raised on.

Unfortunately for them, it’s becoming progressively difficult to ignore our rapidly changing culture, especially when it moves right next door. Such is the case of Walter Kowalski (masterfully portrayed by Clint Eastwood), a Korean War veteran who considers himself an ‘old-school’ American, a protector of his culture, and a man unwilling to accept change (not even haircuts). He lives in a ghetto neighborhood that has been taken over by minorities, with Walter being one of the only white men left in the area, the last holdout.

Walter has a very detached relationship with both of his sons, and is especially disappointed by their lack of respect and spoiled lifestyle. He chooses to spend his days sitting alone on his porch, drinking beer and crooning over his prized Gran Torino, a relic of his cherished past.

He seems to be perfectly content with this lifestyle, until a family of Hmongs move next door. Walter rejects them, he wants nothing to do with their kind. Instead, he chooses to remain on alone his porch, spewing a racial slur in between each sip of beer.

Despite his initial bitterness, he soon discovers that he relates to values and lifestyles of the Hmongs more-so than he does his own family. Walter takes particular interest in a teenage boy named Thao, who he witnesses performing good deeds around the neighborhood. Walter teaches Thao how to talk like an American, work like and American, and eat like an American, in hopes that he’ll save Thao from a bleak future.

By the end, he sacrifices himself in hopes of giving Thao and his sister Sue an opportunity to live in peace, in effect freeing himself from the guilt he has acquired throughout his life.

Despite the constant racist remarks and slurs, the message of this movie is unity and change. Walter Kowalski signifies the changing attitude Americans hold towards different races and cultures. After learning to appreciate the Hmong’s way of life, he is enlightened, and respects their differences. Every day, America is setting new standards and breaking farther away from our older ways.

Clint Eastwood is the driving force behind Gran Torino, treating the audience to an amazingly genuine and heartfelt performance on both sides of the camera. He snarls, growls, and glares his way through the movie, seldom smiling and always on alert.

Gran Torino is a powerful and effective film with a message, without ever becoming preachy. Audiences laugh at Eastwood’s constant bigotry towards the Hmong, but the movie is effective in taking the audience on the same journey as Walter, we feel with him, laugh with him, cry with him, and change with him.

Clint Eastwood has stated that this could be his last acting role. I sincerely hope not, since his impressive career has brought audiences amazing performances in classics such as ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’, ‘Unforgiven’, and ‘Million Dollar Baby’. In the past five years alone he has directed the critically acclaimed ‘Flags Of Our Fathers’ and ‘Letters To Iwo Jima’, as well as the previously mentioned ‘Million Dollar Baby’, a film that won an Oscar for best picture. With Gran Torino, Eastwood continues his winning streak.

If this is indeed Clint’s last performance, then it will serve as a fine conclusion to an impressive, 58 year acting career. ‘Gran Torino’ became the number one movie in America in it’s opening weekend, and many predict it to be the highest earning film of Eastwood’s career. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I strongly urge you to do so, because it’s entertaining, effective, and a triumphant end to a legendary career.

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