Friday, December 26, 2008
Ever stop and think "Why are there so few real men nowadays?" I guess the better question is "What's a real man?" I think of my grandfather as this type of guy. He worked hard, provided for his family and left a mark by the time he died. I guess he was a product of his times- he served in World War II in the Pacific with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. After the war, he was an inventor, working on products that we all have used in our lives. He never bragged, had a hearty laugh and earned the respect of a great many people that knew him. But he also never told his kids he loved them. It's not that he didn't love my mother or her siblings, he just never found the words to say it. Like I said, he was a product of his times.
GRAN TORINO is a story about that kind of man. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War vet who is widowed at the film's start. He lives in a neighborhood that is ethnically diverse and plagued with gang violence. He drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon, eats beef jerky and relates to his only friend, Daisy, a yellow lab. When his neighbors, an ethnic Hmong family, enter into his quiet life, he has to recognize his own past prejudices and come to terms with remaining guilt from the war.
Clint Eastwood makes quiet movies. GRAN TORINO is a typical Eastwood film in that respect. Despite his (very) colorful language towards any ethnic person he encounters, there's a slow-simmering sadness to his Walt. But before you think this movie is an indictment on bigotry, it's actually the opposite- the film's weakest characters are those who pander and bend to bullies because they happen to be minorities. In one scene, a young white guy tries to act cool around three black men that are threatening to beat him up and rape his girlfriend. The white kid calls one of the black guys "bro," and it's at that point that we see what's really happening here. There's something insincere about that behavior. The black guys see it and so does Walt, who enters the situation with a pistol and absolutely no filter on his foul-mouth. After the confrontation, it's clear that Walt is the only real man involved.
This movie is a relevant take on our society. Walt's two grown sons are assholes- whiny and selfish. And Walt's disrespectful grandchildren are worse- texting during his wife's funeral service. And as for the young man living next door, Thao is a boy with no male role model. He is likely to either join his cousin's gang or be killed. Walt refuses to let this happen, and becomes Thao's mentor, teaching him about women, work and how to be a foul-mouthed bigot! These scenes between the two are brilliant, a reverse KARATE KID if you will. If there is a fault to this movie, it's the ending, which turns quickly into violence. But despite it overreaching into a different film genre, GRAN TORINO is still a very worthwhile film- go see it.