Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Gran Torino movie review

So tenderly your story is
nothing more than what you see
or what you've done or will become

There are moments in my life when I reflect and wish I had been a little braver, a little more forthright, or alternatively, wished I’d demonstrated a little more wisdom and just shut up. Last year I had an opportunity to do the right thing.
standing strong do you belong
in your skin; just wondering

Last year I was travelling home on the train a little later than usual. The train was about half full, so plenty of spare seats. Everyone was minding their own business. An inebriated man got on and started talking to a year 7 boy (13 yo) with a Melbourne Grammar School uniform on, who had his head down reading a book. This man was not being threatening as such but the young boy was intimidated and embarrassed. The man tried to be ‘humourous’ by imitating the boy’s Vietnamese heritage with the schoolyard classic, ‘slanty eyes’.
At this point I asked the man to sit down like everyone else and to stop disturbing the young fella because he was scaring him. I spoke in a respectful but firm way, taking the focus off the boy and on to me. “I was just trying to be friendly” said the man. He sat down though, somewhere else. I think he recognised he had acted foolishly.
gentle now the tender breeze blows
whispers through my Gran Torino
whistling another tired song

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is at the end of his life. He has seen death through his involvement in the Korean war and carries those images inside his head. He knows he’s not perfect – he’s not proud of the disconnect between him and his two sons, and their families.
But he doesn’t regret much in his life – he has only three things to confess to the priest. This is not hubris so much as knowing that rightly or wrongly, he has lived his life, knows where he comes from, and knows what he can do.
He is the last remaining white man in the neighbourhood, as the original inhabitants have slowly packed up and moved away. In their place many immigrants from South East Asia : Vietnam, Laos, China, have moved in.
Walt is the archetypal grumpy old man – he just wants to be left alone, drinking beer on his porch with his dog for company. The area has gang trouble however and Walt finds himself standing up to these bullies to protect his younger and more vulnerable neighbours. This draws him into the world of his neighbours.
The Gran Torino in the title is Walt’s prized 1972 Ford motor car. This is not a ‘car’ movie but does provide a starting point for how Walt becomes an unlikely mentor for his young neighbour, Thao. In return, Walt finds friendship with Thao and his sister Sue. Walt teaches Thao that being a man involves having a vocation, providing for your family, and ultimately making your own way in life, that is, thinking for yourself and not following the pack.
This is a very fine picture by Eastwood. Hopefully it is not his last although rumours abound (he is 79 years old after all). It is similar in style to his Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby although I prefer this one, albeit without the acting presence of a Hilary Swank or Morgan Freeman.
engine hums and bitter dreams grow
heart locked in a Gran Torino
it beats a lonely rhythm all night long

My headmaster at school implored us to “be our own man.” This is Eastwood’s message to young men everywhere. 4 out of 5.

'Gran Torino' music by Jamie Cullen, vocals by Clint Eastwood

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