Monday, January 12, 2009

Film Review: Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood Continues His Powerful Attacks on War and Racist Xenophobia

by Eric Green

When you think that Eastwood has done enough in combating the evils of war, i.e., Flags of Our Fathers; and Letter from Iwo Jima; He does it again. This time he attacks a US imperial war that never gets discussed….the Korean War. It is not a direct attack, but his point is made.

Through the eyes, mind and heart of an embittered Korean War and autoworker veteran, filmgoers are treated to an amazing performance and film direction. For the first time since his award winning film, Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood directs himself in a film. He is one of the few directors who can accomplish that feet.

Eastwood will be turning 79 years old in May of this year; and, doesn't appear to be slowing down. Quite the contrary. In his December 19, 2006 interview with PBS Charley Rose you get insight into Eastwood. To view that interview, and you should, just "google" the show and the 52 minutes can be viewed. Who of us who lived through Eastwood of the '80s, would be having these thoughts?

He continues to do what he did in the fight film, in Gran Torino, that is, attacking stereotypes in a very realistic crude and relentlessly unforgiving manner.

Walter Kowalski is watching his entire world fall apart in front of his very eyes; and, he hates it. He is proud of his Silver Star medal and flies the flag in front of his Detroit home. The whole film was produced in Detroit, Michigan, something that was proudly stated in the films credits.

The main story line, the original story came from Dave Johannson with a screenplay by Dave Schecnk, has a Vietnamese family moving into the home just beside Kowalski. His wife just died and this loss was almost too much for him to bear and now he feels invaded. Continuing racist and anti-semetic mutterings of Kowalski takes place throughout the film. I thought I was back in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up with this kind of guy.

The 16 year-old next door, Sue Loi, played by Ahney Her; and, her brother, Thao Vang Lor, played by Bee Vang, were central to the film. As very new actors, and under the direction of Eastwood, they more than fulfilled their roles. The other 10 to 15 family members of the Vietnamese family also did a more than satisfactory job. It is very realistic.

The growing extreme poverty of that Detroit area was not hidden. The rise of natiohnality based youth gangs becomes central to the film. These depictions are rather hard to watch.

While the previews of the film could get you to see Kowalski as just another Eastwood "Dirty Harry" revenge character; it is not.

Eastwood's Anti-War Sentiments Surface

Eastwood's character really comes to the fore when he finally comes to grips with the Korean War killings that he committed. In fact, in his Rose interview, Eastwood actually describes how a person like Kowalski could submerge from their combat experience. Even though the interview preceeding this film.

The film's priest, a less than 30 year old, very well played by Christopher Carley, tried to help Kowalski's guilt by saying that he was just following orders in doing the killings. But, Kowalski made it clear that it wasn't the direct orders to kill that were destroying him for over 50 years; it was the killing that were not ordered. That was a powerful statement.

The way in which Kowalski plans his revenged and to come to the aid of his new friends also seemed like a metaphor for his Korean War killings; and even the Iraq war fiasco which Eastwood totally opposed.

Another interesting aspect of the film is casting his son Scott Eastwood as an aspiring boyfriend of Sue Loi. Scott was born in Carmel, California when Clint Eastwood was mayor.

Clint Eastwood directed, produced and was the main character of the film. Lenny Neihaus the famous jazz musician, and Eastwoods life long friend, was responsibility for the music in this film. Eastwood, who clearly like to involvement himself in every aspect of filmmaking, wrote and song the lead song, Grand Torino for the film. He received a Golden Globe nomination for that song. He lost to Bruce Springsteen's Wrestler original song.