A couple of months ago, I turned 50 years old! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which cam out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it. This is Post #10. Spoilers ahead.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Release Date: January 9, 2009
My age then: 38 years old
What it is about: Walt Kowalski is an angry and prejudiced old man who has just lost his wife and is disconnected from his children and grandchildren. Against his own better judgment, he befriends a Hmong family that lives next door when he helps to protect the teenaged boy, Thao, from a local street gang that are pressuring him to join. A series of tragedies and heartaches leads Walt to make a tremendous sacrifice to save the family from the gang’s ongoing threat.
Starring Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, Bee Vang as Thao, Ahney Her as Sue (Thao’s sister), and Christopher Carley as a priest who keeps trying to reach out to Walt. Clint’s son Scott has small roll as a bit of an idiot who is out with Sue one day.
My impressions of this movie before I watched it: All I knew about this movie is that it was a Clint Eastwood flick, that it dealt with racism, and that it had something to do with a car.
Reality: Well, it turns out that I was right! All of my impressions were true–it does feature a car, it does address racism and Clint Eastwood is majorly involved, both in front of and behind the camera. It brings these elements together in story that displays an unhurried, narratively-weighty exploration of life, death and justice–all very characteristic of Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker.
The story features Eastwood as a surly old man who inadvertently becomes a hero to his foreign neighbors as a byproduct of kicking some gang members of his property. He both impacts their lives and is deeply touched by them in return, but the movie manages to maintain a balanced touch to these interactions. The characters are emotionally moved but there is the directorial restraint necessary to avoid turning it all into full-blown melodrama. –bringing out the ways that the characters are moved emotionally while carefully avoiding full-blown melodrama.
Still, I had a bit of a hard time getting into Gran Torino. Walt Kowalski is so gruff and unpleasant that I found him hard to connect to. Eastwood gives the character a relentless growl of a voice that was hard to believe. And most of the people around him–like the local priest and his own family–are quite annoying, and not brought to life with the strongest performances. It makes one feel there isn’t much to enjoy in the movie’s early scenes.
Still, as it went along the movie I became more invested. Even though it maintained a raw and unpolished feel for its duration, the characters and their relationships eventually won me over. There is a sweetness and an honesty to the friendships Walt develops with Thao and Sue that are nice to see. The movie gives us a glimpse into Walt’s tender side without ever really sanding off his rough edges. And Walt’s ultimate sacrifice–where he sacrifices himself so that the family’s tormentors will go to jail–is inspired and genuinely moving.
So…when you get down to it, what did I think? It didn’t win me over right away, but eventually I got onto the film’s side and enjoyed the richness of the drama that Eastwood was offering.
See here for the Master List.