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Gran Torino
UKScreen Rating:

Gran Torino – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a grumpy, bitter old racist, who doesn’t even crack his stone-cold face when his wife dies.
His children and grandchildren hate him — and he hates everyone — particularly the local priest — and anyone from a non-WASP background.
When a southeast Asian family move in next door, his comfortable life of isolation is rudely interrupted when a local gang tries to recruit Thao (Vang).
For no reason other than to get the gang off his property, Walt pulls a gun and frightens them off.
Thao’s family – led by his sister Sue (Her) – starts harassing him — as he sees it — with gifts and hospitality.
But an unlikely friendship forms between the cantankerous old man and the teenagers, who are somewhere between worldly wise and charmingly naive and idealistic.
The friendship has a resounding effect on the lives of all those involved – including the elderly racist, his selfish descendants, the Asian family next door and the local gang members who taunt them.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

As you would expect, Eastwood delivers a beautifully controlled performance, on the right side of caricature, successfully adding the charming, neighbourhood racist to his growing repertoire of varied roles – although there’s speculation that it won’t grow much more…this could be his last time in front of the camera, after three recent films where he’s stayed firmly in the director’s chair.
This is a typical tale of an unpleasant character, in denial about his antisocial ways, being coached to redemption – in this case by the unlikely combination of a naively optimistic teenaged girl and her introverted brother, who’s on the brink of the social abyss – a nudge in one direction will push him into a life of crime, a prod in the other could – in modern America – see him follow the path of Barack Obama.
For the first time in his life, it seems, Walt has someone he feels is deserving of the fatherly love he wasn’t able to show his own family.
As a piece of storytelling, Eastwood takes it slow – perhaps a little too slow – but the pace only emphasises the power of the more shocking moments in the film.
But the story itself is disappointingly formulaic and most of the way, there are few shocks.
Eastwood’s character development is infused with lightly humourous touches, but most of the other characters are rather too lightly drawn.
The film’s fatalistic denouement won’t leave the most pleasant of tastes in your mouth, but whoever said restoring honour to the world was easy?
The title, by the way, refers to his prized possession – the 1972 classic car that everyone seems to treasure more than anything else in the world.

opens 20th February 2009

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