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  Publicity Stills of
"Gran Torino"
(Courtesy of GV)

Genre: Drama
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, John Carroll Lynch, Geraldine Hughes, Brian Haley, Dreama Walker, Doua Moua, Brian Howe, Sarah Neubauer, Lee Mong Vang, Christopher Carley
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: NC-16
Official Website: http://www.thegrantorino.com/

Opening Day: 26 March 2009


Disgruntled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski's prized possesion: his 1972 Gran Torino.

Movie Review:

Don’t let the lines on his face fool you. Or for that matter, his age. It’s hard to imagine a 78-year old as an action hero but one look into his menacingly widened eyes will convince you that Clint Eastwood is still that guy you better not mess with. Yes, it has been a while since we’ve seen Dirty Harry with the .44 Magnum tauntingly calling out to the bad guys “Make my day”. But make no mistake about it- Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood is back.  

In “Gran Torino”, Eastwood plays a cantankerous, disgruntled Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski. Newly widowed, Walt Kowalski appears to have a bone to pick with everyone, be it his incompetent sons, his grandchildren with piercings or that priest who insists on calling him Walt and asking him to go for confession when he confesses that he has no desire to confess to “a 27-year old virgin who holds the hands of superstitious old ladies and promises them everlasting life”.  

But Walt Kowalski is especially displeased with the changes in his Detroit neighbourhood. Since the decline of the auto industry (Kowalski himself a former auto worker), Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia and mostly Vietnam have come in droves, even moving in next door. He calls them “gooks” and “chinks” and countless other racist names.

Still Walt Kowalski is a man of justice. When he sees a local Hmong gang trying to pressure his teenage boy next-door Thao (Bee Vang) to join them, he picks up his shotgun and in an ominous deep voice, growls “Get off my lawn”.  Indeed, when you hear him say “I blow a hole in your face and I sleep like a baby”, you’d better believe Dirty Harry is back.

That’s not to say that he hasn’t mellowed. What with one thing and another, he discovers how delicious Hmong food is, comes to protect Thao’s elder sister Sue (Ahney Her) from harassment, and most of all, develops a sense of attachment to Thao- teaching him how to stand up for himself like a man, “grow some balls” to ask the girl he likes out and even pulls a favour to get Thao a job at a local construction site.

Surely, Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is still the hero we’ve learnt to associate the icon with. Within Walt, we see the symbol of masculinity Eastwood embodied as the Man with No Name, or the man of principle he personified as Dirty Harry. When something’s not right, you’d be sure he’s not afraid to stand up and make it so. But what makes Walt different from Eastwood’s other characters is his humanity- a gentleness and warmth that he gradually reveals through assuming the role of protector for Thao and Sue.

And I think this is what makes “Gran Torino” so poignant. Once perceived as a final hurrah for “Dirty Harry”, it is not simply one more in the line of movies featuring the character; it is much more- because as Walt, Eastwood is not just sending up Dirty Harry, he is also magnifying it, reflecting on how sometimes it’s not enough just to take the law into your own hands.

Rightly so too, I might add. Back then, crime was the vice Dirty Harry was fighting, so all he needed was his revolver. But fighting this new evil of racism in a racially awakened but no less divided America requires a different kind of ammunition. It compels a compassion and empathy for fellow man- something Walt Kowalski and not Dirty Harry possesses.

Herein lies the beauty of newcomer Nick Schenk’s script- which persuaded Eastwood to come out of acting hiatus after 4 years. It may be darkly comical in its sometimes off-putting racist language, but it really also is unusually sensitive in the way it portrays Walt’s transformation. And Eastwood the actor and Eastwood the director proves here a particularly potent combination- the director knowing exactly what he wants out of each scene and never wasting any moment of screen time.

It’s hard to imagine “Gran Torino” without Clint Eastwood. He not only makes Walt Kowalski the character his own, he defines the very essence of the film in both its melancholy and sentimentality. Truly, who else can claim to have been an actor for 53 years, a director for 37 years, won two Oscars for best director and another two for best picture?
Heck, he even wrote and sang the title song you hear at the end with Jamie Cullum.

And when you hear the words of that song,
“So tenderly, your story is nothing more
Than what you see or what you’ve done
Standing strong do you belong
In your skin, just wondering...”
you realise you’ve witnessed in “Gran Torino” not just a man, or a figure, or a character. You’ve been in the presence of Clint Eastwood, a true icon, once was, now is and will probably forever be.

Movie Rating:

Review by Gabriel Chong

(Dirty Harry made Clint Eastwood an icon of his time, but at 78, with Gran Torino, and as Walt Kowalski, he becomes an icon of our time)


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. Die Hard 4.0 (2007)

. When A Stranger Calls (2006)




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