Monday, 10 May 2010

Gran Torino

I've now concluded my war films binge (or at least, I rather hope so - there's only so many explosions and flying limbs that you can take in a short space of time), so will begin a full write up of the movies I watched (might take a while, there were nine of them). In the meantime, a few quick words on Gran Torino, which I finally got around to watching last night.

Put simply, Gran Torino is an excellent film. Not only did Clint Eastwood direct and produce the movie, he also starred in it. His performance as Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski is superb - the blurb on the back of the DVD calls it 'bone-deep' and I think that's spot on. He portrays Kowalski as a brooding, prejudiced and aggressive individual, yet also as a man who has a kind nature and surprising sense of humour. The way Eastwood pivots between these different sides of the same character is both subtle and utterly convincing.

The story itself focuses on Kowalski's dislike for the Hmong immigrants that have moved in next door, and how his perception and attitude towards them gradually changes as he forms relationships with the younger members of the family. As a gang starts to terrorise his new friends, Kowalski finds himself helping the very people he initially disliked, and as events come to a head he realises that only he can save the family's future...but that a sacrifice will need to be made.

It's an absorbing story, covering a number of themes: prejudice, loyalty and the importance of staying true to yourself being just three of them. The script is very good and the plot itself is constructed well. I felt that the middle third lagged slightly - perhaps could have done with another run-in with the gang just to keep the tension going - but overall the pacing was good. The relationships between Kowalski and his Hmong neighbours are rendered very well, and the final climax is both surprising and powerful.

Highly recommended.

9 comments:

Amy said...

I actually watched Gran Torino for the first time last night as well and even now, more than twelve hours later, there are still certain scenes absolutely branded on my memory. (By way of comparison, I've also watched Clash of the Titans and Iron Man 2 within the last couple of weeks, both of which I'd largely forgotten an hour later.)

I also noticed the lack of the gang in the middle of the film, although I actually found myself hoping they wouldn't show up again because I was so certain that if they did, everything would go horribly wrong for the characters that I had grown to like. Of course, that was never going to happen, but I was hopeful anyway.

There's always something about films with bittersweet endings (I don't think that's too much of a spoiler, given the overall tone of the film) that makes them more memorable than completely happy ones.

Ms. Laura said...

I watched Gran Torino a couple of months ago, and I agree with Amy, there are still scenes that are branded on my memory.

I watch quite a few movies, and most of them are forgettable. I was both surprised and impressed with the quality of the film. I've watched many Clint movies, and Western's really aren't my thing, so I really wasn't expecting to enjoy the movie as much as I did.

Although the ending was bittersweet, I found it less utterly sobworthy than Million Dollar Baby.

David Wagner said...

I will never understand what people see in this film. It was very predictable and pedestrian to me, with clichéd and corny dialog. I was quite thoroughly underwhelmed by it. I suppose my expectations for the film (based on all the positive feedback it received) were just too high. I thought it was a turd.

Stephen said...

I thought it was a fantastic film. Touching and memorable, with a great cast of mostly unknowns. A great send off for Eastwood, if it is to be his last acting role, although a few years ago I thought Million Dollar Baby was his last. In a way, this film is a bit like the culmination of lots of his other roles, a mix of his army based war characters, and also a distant kissing cousin of Harry Callahan, old and retired. As well as a commentary on community and modern society and gangs, for me it was about family. I laughed out loud a lot in this film, probably because I'm a grumpy old git at heart like Walt, and I was one of the youngest in the audience when I saw it at the cinema. Great stuff.

Fred said...

"I will never understand what people see in this film."

Boy are you out of luck!

Aside from its whopping commercial & critical success Gran Torino recently picked up the Best Foreign Film prize at the French & Japan Academy Awards. I note this only to mention that those two countries - along with the US - have the strongest tradition of great moviemaking & critical appreciation of film in the world. So how do you account for that? Perhaps you should think a little harder about Gran Torino.

Time4u Book Review said...

Gran Torino is just a good solid story, there are a thousand worse films out there than this.

Jebus said...

It's a good film but I also agree somewhat predictable, but even then it still has a powerfully emotional kick to it.

Some other good recent emotional films I've seen are Welcome (French), Still Walking (Japanese), Harry Brown (UK).

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the film - but did it remind anyone else of Karate Kid but the other way round?

James said...

David - Interesting, I obviously felt totally different. I must say I didn't find it predictable at all, I didn't see that ending coming.

Stephen - yeah, I found it really amusing at times as well.

Anonymous - funny, it reminded me of Karate Kid at one point.