Saturday 8 April 2023

Movie Review: Gran Torino (2008)

Genre: Drama
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
Running Time: 116 Minutes

Synopsis: In Detroit, cantankerous and racist senior Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) has just lost his wife. A Korean War veteran and retired car plant assembly worker, Walt lives in an inner city neighbourhood now threatened by gangs from various ethnicities. His next-door neighbours are a Hmong immigrant family, and their son Thao (Bee Vang) attempts (and fails) to steal Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino. Thao's spirited sister Sue (Ahney Her) breaks down cultural barriers with Walt, who eventually becomes a father figure to Thao. But in this neighbourhood, the potential for violence is never too far.

What Works Well: Nick Schenk's uncompromising script explores a country's adapt-or-die imperatives at the intersection of ignorance and immigration. Walt Kowalski fails to spot the irony of his Polish heritage not standing in the way of the venom he spews at other ethnicities, but otherwise the melting pot fundamentals of an always-changing nation come to the fore with biting traces of humour. Sue demonstrates the street smarts needed for survival and integration, while Eastwood the director expertly forges the bond between a caustic veteran and a vulnerable youth without sacrificing the essence of either character. With Walt hiding the emotional scars of wartime atrocities, Eastwood's gnarly screen presence is epic.

What Does Not Work Well: The narrative ideas occasionally rise above the script's limited sophistication, with the middle act particularly flabby. The interventions of the young priest Father Janovich  (Christopher Carley) are more circular than effective. Some of Walt's influence on Thao is reductive, and the climax surrenders to unsatisfying simplicity. The stream of racial insults becomes tiresome.

Conclusion: Intolerance is best punctured by the courage of personal interaction - and good food.

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