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Gran Torino
Genre Crime
Year: 2008

Gran Torino follows in a long line of comebacks… Bruce Willis reprised John McClane in Die Hard 4, Sylvester Stallone gave Rocky a few more rounds in Rocky Balboa and Clint Eastwood gets his Dirty Harry attitude back for Gran Torino. Eastwood is in his late 70s, but that doesn’t stop him from tearing things up in Hollywood. He’s taken a backseat, the director’s actually, over the last few years since his turn in Million Dollar Baby. However, the chance to play an older, wiser “Dirty Harry” must have been too tempting to pass up. Eastwood has been churning out majestic films over the last few years, including: Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling and now Gran Torino. He’s currently in South Africa, filming The Human Factor, based on the inspiring book by John Carlin, which promises to be yet another triumph with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar. Eastwood has been fascinated with race relations, and it shows in his films. There’s something timeless in the rift between cultures, races and geographies that makes a fascinating study. His explorations in Letters from Iwo Jima, must have fueled his desire to tap this contentious pool of humanity and this together with films like Crash, led to Gran Torino.

The story follows a retired Korean War veteran, whose wife has just passed. Strained relations between him and his family have alienated him, and he’s been isolated even further by his racism in a neighbourhood that used to be predominantly white. Walt Kowalski is a no bullshit kind of guy and his Dirty Harry attitude has ripened to the point that he’s got no time for anybody, including his sons and priest (Carley). Kowalski’s bad attitude is put to the test when he catches a young Hmong neighbour, Thao (Vang) trying to boost his prized Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. What follows is a foray into a “foreign” culture that doesn’t seem that foreign to Walt after all. His lack of respect for otherness is pushed to the limit as he’s confronted by his own prejudices and forced to make amends for his past.

Gran Torino is a simple story that is laden with rich undertones. Eastwood’s film career as a renegade with integrity is reinforced with his role as Walt Kowalski. The racial tension is tangible and Eastwood isn’t afraid to immerse himself in the hatred of his character. Nick Schenk’s script is filled with great dialogue, which has a natural flow similar to the cinematography. While Eastwood still injects a few one-liners as a tribute or call to the days of Dirty Harry, which help establish the character’s history. Gran Torino covers spiritual themes concerning grief, death and the meaning of life, while interracial conflict and prejudice forms the foundation. It’s a beautiful movie in all its misplaced anger, and shows how integration and acceptance go a long way to breaking walls of fear and indifference.

Eastwood plays Kowalski like a second skin, and is supported by Bee Vang as Thao Vang Lor, Ahney Her as Sue Lor and Christopher Carley as Father Janovich. It’s a powerful crime drama that cleverly sneaks moments of light relief into situations to make the whole movie more entertaining and relieve the tension. This is a solid film that tackles some big issues with a realistic perspective. The script is insightful, void of stereotypes and feeds well into Eastwood’s direction. There’s plenty of bad language and the violence is infrequent, although you’ll be fine if you managed movies like Dirty Harry or Crash. Kowalski’s impending friendship with Thao is the main driving force. It’s a similar dynamic to Mr. Miyagi and Daniel’s relationship in The Karate Kid, with a focus on the father figure. Eastwood’s at the top of his game, and Nick Schenk’s script bristles with intensity making Gran Torino a must-see.

The bottom line: Gripping.

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