Gran Torino (US-Aus, 2008)

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Big man Clint?

There are few Hollywood stars who last into their 70s but Clint Eastwood’s still going strong and both stars and directs this fascinating melodrama. On the face of it the film’s a culture clash between Eastwood’s racist old man and the Humong (SE Asian ‘hill people’) who live next door but Eastwood’s persona makes the film (almost) a treatise on violence in Hollywood over the last 40 years. In Unforgiven (1992) Eastwood revisited his ‘Spaghetti’ western films; Gran Torino takes in his Dirty Harry persona, his fascist cop of the 1980s.

SPOILERS: there’s an inevitable trajectory in the film that will lead to Eastwood in ‘avenging angel’ mode however, while Unforgiven ended in a welter of violence (suggesting the dark heart of America’s need to ‘regenerate through violence’), in Gran Torino Eastwood’s character sacrifices himself. So not only is the racism of the right wing vigilante repudiated through the narrative’s development, the violence that has infused much of Eastwood’s films is also rejected.

The film’s full of many other pleasures – the scene where Humong women take delight in feeding the curmudgeon has a delightfully improvised feel – as well as a marvellous set of supporting performances. Eastwood’s direction is good, a simple tracking shot of his two sons in church at the beginning is sufficient to signify their relationship with thim, and the blue tinged cinematography is perfectly suited to the film.

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2 Responses

  1. I loved this film, I thought the direction and acting was excellent and of course the great thing about Eastwood as a director is that you don’t think ‘this is really well directed’, it’s just there on the screen. I think it was Mark Kermode who was saying that the thing about Eastwood is that he’s so good he makes it look very easy.

    I agree mostly with your interpretation, ie that “Gran Torino” is basically revisiting “Dirty Harry” in the same way that “Unforgiven” revisited the Dollars trilogy, though what is really interesting about it is the stress upon redemption rather than vengeance. Not just Walt’s redemption (ie he stops being a racist, friendless bigot and realises the best thing you can do in life is make sacrifice for the welfare of others) but also, through this quasi-messianic sacrifice, he allows Thao to escape from a life as a criminal.

    Interesting to contrast with Unforgiven where, like you say, the man ultimately at peace becomes a killer once again. In a way, there is a curious relationship between the two. The Man With no Name usually starts the Westerns not wanting to get involved and is very much a reluctant hero, whereas William Munney has lost much of this morality and is just a killer.

    In contrast, Harry Callaghan is a shoot first, ask questions later, type cop who very much sets himself out as a hero and uses violence as a means to an end, whereas Walt, with his mlitary background has ultimately realised the futility of this approach.

    In a way, both Unforgiven and Gran Torino flip Eastwood’s iconic characters on their head, but the tragectories are opposite. TMWNN (man with no name) is a lone wolf and doesn’t really want to get involved. He only gets involved in eliminating the gangs in Fistful of Dollars after they threaten him or laugh at his mule or whatever, whereas while traces of this are found in Munny, he no longer gets involved out of reluctant morality but because he’s basically a gun for hire. All implication at the end is that Munny is no hero, he has become a villain again.

    In contrast, Callaghan is very much an avenging angel of a character, a moral absolutist to the extent that he transgresses the law in order to avenge the victims of Scorpio. If we consider Walt, he is like this at the beginning of the film, but by the end he has realised the truth that Harry always missed, that violence only begats further escalating violence and that someone has to take a stand, rather than just launch a one man war against crime.

  2. I thought it was a great film, I’d say it was it’s own film although i can see similarities between it and Harry.

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