Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Gran Torino is a film that deserved some recognition at these upcoming 81st Academy Awards.

Instead, what ended up being one of the most emotionally charged, and powerful dramas of 2008 got snubbed. That’s really, really, too bad.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much from the Trailer for this film. It came across as a movie about a man with nothing to lose who decides to take on the gangs who plague his neighborhood.

There is some truth to that assessment. But to say that is to say that Cyrano De Bergerac is a play about a funny looking man who helps a coworker woo a beautiful, intelligent woman.

It completely misses the point.

In Gran Torino, Eastwood plays an old man named Walter Kowalski. A man who served in Korea, before returning the midwest to work in a Ford factory and care for his family in a suburb of Detroit. Fast forward to the start of the film, and Walter’s wife has passed, his sons are grown and resentful, and his community has been overrun by minorities, including a large asian population. Walt is an old racist, and his distrust of his asian neighbors has led to him having strained relationships with everyone around him.

Shortly after the funeral, the young Hmong boy next door attempts to steal Walt’s 1971 Gran Torino as part of an induction into a local gang the boy is being forced into. Walt stops him, and is forced by the boy’s mother to take the boy in to work for him to pay off his debt. In the process, Walter begins to become fond of the boy, and his family.

While Walter becomes fond, his own existence as a racist old man doesn’t really change. He still refers to the Hmong neighbors constantly as “gooks” or “zipper heads”. What’s really fascinating about it, is that while Walt’s incredibly grating personality never abates, we get to watch while the Hmong neighbors accept Walt as he is, racial slurs and all, and he realizes that they are perfectly good people themselves. And while all this is happening, Walt’s own family pulls themselves further and further away from him.

All the while, Walt is having conversations with the local Catholic Priest, played by Christopher Carley, who had promised Walt’s wife that he’d get the old man to take confession. Father Janovich’s conversation with Walt delve deep into the issues of morality and guilt. Faith and redemption.

In the end, the film never apologizes for Walt. While Walt does grow as a person over the course of the film, his surface remains rough. It’s good to watch Walt’s relationship with the Hmong, whom he’d initially resented for taking over his neighborhood, as he realizes that they aren’t the kind of people he remembered from Korea (which is not to say that Korean’s are somehow evil, only that a Korean Veteran would likely view them as such). And, to come to grips with his own past.

The last ten minutes of the film were some of the most powerful minutes I’ve seen in a movie in years. I firmly believe that Eastwood should have received at least a nomination for this film, and I’m somewhat disappointed it was overlooked. Gran Torino was absolutely worth the price of admission, and I definitely suggest going to see it.