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Watching – Gran Torino – Available on DVD

23 Feb

‘Isn’t that the one with Clint Eastwood – and it’s about cars?’  I can hear you saying it – and thinking – ‘Not for me’.  But – just wait – give it chance.  Yes it does star Clint Eastwood and there is a car in it – but that shouldn’t put you off.  It’s great – and I’m certainly no rev-head, nor am I a Dirty Harry fanatic.

Gran Torino
follows Walt Kowalski, a grumpy veteran of the Korean war who lives in a neighbourhood undergoing change.  Traditionally the domain the white middle class, the suburb is now populated by poor Asian migrants and overrun by ethnic gangs.  As an initiation test to enter a gang, Walt’s young neighbour Thao attempts to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino.  Walt catches Thao in the act and an unlikely relationship develops.

So – what’s to like about this movie?  Well – it is at once funny, sad, hopeful and thought provoking.  What more could one ask of a film?  Eastwood is a standout.  After 40 years of playing the gruff anti-hero, he well and truly has the act nailed.  I’ve never heard someone growl so convincingly – but growl Walt does – at everyone, including his own family.  Walt is an unapologetic bigot.  In this day and age of political correctness, to hear such racially offensive language is shocking and almost comedic.  You’re kind of laughing in the sense of ‘I can’t believe he just said that.’

Ultimately, this is a film about racism.  It exposes the great truth – that for no rational reason, many humans fear or distrust ‘others’ from a different cultural background.  And – it’s not just the domain of anglo saxons.  The film exposes tensions between migrant groups – namely, the asian and latino gangs.  Fortunately, Gran Torino does not go down the path of being a totally redemptive film.  Walt does not transform from being racist to being a peace-loving buddhist in the space of two hours.  He’s still a bigot in the end.  But – it’s the audience who take away the lesson – goodness and decency exists across all cultures.  We just need to reach out and find it.