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STUDIO: Warner Brothers
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
Old people don’t like ethnics or gangs.
Clint Eastwood, Brian Haley, Christopher Carley, John Carroll Lynch and Geraldine Hughes
Clint Eastwood supposedly made Gran Torino his farewell flick. I don’t buy that this is his coda for a moment. If Eastwood has really chosen to exit the American cinema, then this works as a farewell. The story of ex-GI Walt Kowalski is familiar to Eastwood’s past genre roles. He’s a hard-ass who plays by his rules. Nobody in the community understands him and he’s constantly butting heads with authority. But, there’s something new here. There’s always the familiar suggestions that the world is passing him by.
Wakes and funerals are the best time to nab yourself a white girl.
I’ve spent the past two weeks thinking about Gran Torino. Imagine my surprise when I went to write my two cents and I kept finding myself distracted. Issues of youth, growing old, authority, pre-ordained stations and other such nonsense kept flapping around my belfry. Then, I started to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As I watched Matthew Broderick rumble through downtown Chicago, I still couldn’t shake my thoughts surrounding Eastwood’s latest. Why in the hell is Ferris Bueller really turning me around on Gran Torino?
That’s when Jeffrey Jones got kicked in the face by Jennifer Grey. I’ve got it. I see what made Kowalski’s journey so painful for me to watch. Clint Eastwood understands the role of the badass old man. All old soldiers don’t die, they fade away. Walt Kowalski starts the movie as a survivor. His wife has departed, his kid has moved his family away and the neighborhood has turned into Little Hanoi.
Well, Frank. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t come to that. But, if the Venusian Overlords are arriving tonight. Well, you can count me in as part of the Human Resistance.
I was asking if you could tell me who repaired your gutters.
We won’t need gutters after the Venusians invade.
I’m scared for you.
The old man keeps himself in the houe he earned among the artifacts of his life. Everything he was or ever accomplished was in the past. But, there’s the constant tether to his past. The cherry 1972 Gran Torino is untouched by any man. Walt relives his past, his love and his time at the Ford plant. When a young Hmong immigrant tries to steal Walt’s prized car, the world meets Old Man Kowalski. The immediacy of normalcy’s end smacks Walt in the face and he responds in turn.
Walt becomes the hardass and pushes away anyone that would try to help. That is until he gets the chance to help Thao and his Hmong immigrant neighbors. The rules are beginning to meet Walt again. There’s an establishment of control through a proper distancing from these people. These people who resemble Walt’s former enemy. It’s been fifty years and Walt is able to put his warrior ways behind him. But, it’s a badge of honor. We used to stack guys like you five high. He tells the frightened Thao this, since he thinks it will earn some respect.
Fulfilling my yellow fever quota one lady at a time.
What this does is to further drive the divide between reality and Walt’s control. Thao is a kid that’s barely eighteen if anything. The Korean War might as well be the War of 1812 to him. Fearing the threats of a 70 year old man is stupid, except for when he pulls his old rifle on you. When Walt and Thao are confronted by the neighborhood gang, the duo form a connection. Walt remains in control, but he’s going to share his world with the impressionable man. Walt has found a protege to mold into what he believes will maintain his sense of order.
Shades of Ed Rooney stalking the streets and random venues of Chicago looking for his Bueller. The old man pursuing the kid that can shake up the natural order. Thao is no Ferris Bueller. He’s actually willing to adapt to his new American home and find ways to emulate the better aspects of Walt. Thao wants to become independent and break out of the shadow of his female relatives.
No one had the heart to tell Clint that he this doesn’t work.
Thao is an interesting figure to watch as the film progresses. He never really breaks out of that Asian Sal Mineo vibe he’s got going. But, there’s this sense that Thao identifies what makes Walt tick. Everyone else treats Walt as this seemingly otherworldly entity that happens to wander into their lives when he needs to make himself known. While Thao is doing Walt’s indentured will, he sees what Walt’s trying to accomplish. Doing these menial tasks around the neighborhood are making the place less inviting for the wrong element.
Thao sees change and likes how it makes him feel. But, the gang constantly reminds Thao what this change costs. You can’t keep playing with the old man and not expect a dose of reality to be instilled. There’s nothing that anyone can do for you that can’t be taken away. A tool belt, dignity, your property or your life are all for grabs. That represents the final indignity to Kowalski. He’s no longer the soldier defending ideals and beliefs against a defined enemy.
Somebody’s a little high for some nipple action.
Kowalski is left on his own with new compatriots that are victimized by the present. They are weak and they are aware of how much can go wrong in the new world. Walt Kowalski’s back is against the wall, as he comes to realize where he has arrived. Smack dab in the middle of an American ghetto with the reality of impending death. One man can’t redefine law and order. One man should never be allowed to judge what’s right and wrong. But, they can try.
Walt’s final decision isn’t something that I’m going to pass judgment on. I don’t come here to deride a film about a righteous old man who wouldn’t roll over and die. Was Walt always right? No. But, he did what all heroes do. Kowalski is the final step in the line of the Eastwood hero legacy. He is the Dirty Harry Callahan that didn’t retire when he should’ve. Walt is a man with no name stalking a faceless enemy through the various shitholes of the American Southwest. He is the angry cop, soldier, bounty hunter, private detective, carny, trucker, male archetype that has to cope with reality.
If you live your life like Shane, you’re going to end up slumped over on a horse. It’s human nature to fight against the dying light of your life. Walt wants to keep some dignity, as he stares down the end of his world. The fight is a fool’s crusade, but you’ve got to fight. The film served as a perfect fatalistic companion to last year’s The Wrestler. If you have the opportunity, I recommend watching both films as a double feature.
The DVD release is surprisingly light when compared to recent Eastwood DVDs. You only get two featurettes that explore the origins of the Gran Torino and its connection to the film. Plus, there’s a rather lengthy look at America’s car culture. I hate WB seems to be tap-dancing around the issues at heart here without even giving Eastwood a chance to record a commentary. The A/V Quality on the DVD is pretty sharp until the finale, where the evening exteriors were plagued with Edge Enhancement and other digital noise. Hell, the confinement of Thao was so muddy that I thought I was watching a bootleg at times.