Gran Torino (Eastwood, 2008)

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The Man with No Name, the ultimate emblem of vigilante justice, has long been a filmmaker of great complexity and compassion. But Clint Eastwood’s latest film Gran Torino, while not on par with The Outlaw Josey Whales, or White Hunter, Black Heart, or A Perfect World, or Mystic River, is one of this year’s best, clearly showing Eastwood’s evolving interest in the relationship of opposites, between cultures, individuals, communities, and emotions. At first glance, Gran Torino looks like the simple story of racist Korean War Vet widower Walt Kowalski who lives in a run-down neighborhood flooded with gangs and immigrants, whose everyday existence becomes tested by a series of escalating events of violence. However, nothing in an Eastwood film is without careful construction, and everything evokes a remembrance of past memories. The great conflict at the heart of an Eastwood film, Gran Torino included, is how the characters enable the past to control the present, and in turn the future. In Mystic River, past trauma’s destroy characters, whereas in Unforgiven and A Perfect World, previous acts of violence end up producing salvation for the young. Gran Torino certainty evolves the themes of these previous Eastwood films, but it also shows Eastwood as an evolving humanist, a filmmaker transcending easy solutions of violence in favor of calculated visions of sacrifice. Sure, moments in Gran Torino are heavy handed, even a bit corny, but for the most part the film carefully plays with Walt’s changing world in ways that produce simple pleasures of character interaction and simple moments of sadness, like Walt’s final phone call to his youngest son, in which the conversation doesn’t breach the surface of formality. The mint condition car of the film’s title doesn’t come to represent Eastwood’s iconic stature, or his brilliantly pliable work as a filmmaker, but of the beauty and wisdom and durability the past can offer the present. Instead of bloodshed, or child abduction, or abuse, Gran Torino provides connections with the past that aid instead of hinder the present, enduring just long enough for the tides to turn toward a substantial existence, a thematic progression of substantial weight.

3 thoughts on “Gran Torino (Eastwood, 2008)

  1. While I watched this, I kept wondering if (in the Canon of Eastwood films) this film would be one that I will go back and watch over and over again. And considering that it seems this might be his last performance, where does it rank among the classic Eastwood characters? Hard to say. Thematically, yes, it does fit the mold of character’s dealing with past trauma and the ending of self-sacrifice added that much more, but too many heavy handed scenes of forced dialog and stilted acting (the priest in particular) dropped this one from “classic” status to somewhere right below. A near miss for me.

  2. Bryan, I honestly didn’t have a problem with any of the acting, especially the priest. He seemed young, naive, but intelligent and willing to listen. I think this is a film of much complexity, especially the moments with Clint by himself. These are the scenes that raise the film from good to great, and I can’t wait to see it again. It might not be a full blown masterpiece, but it’s hands down a knockout for me, and for Clint, a very good film. Watch Changeling and you might change your mind about what is a minor Clint movie.

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