To a certain extent my title does already give away what I thought of Gran Torino, only it is toned down. I was actually thinking more than once while watching “What a load of crap!”. Sorry, people, if there is anyone reading this who liked it, no offence.
Gran Torino tells the story of an old grumpy Korean vet (no, this isn’t a cliché, of course not), Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) who has recently become a widower. He lives in a neighbourhood that has been invaded (his point of view) by…? – Ha! I’m aiming at 100% percent politically correct wording here and will therefore translate what Swiss official papers would use as a wording which is “People with a migratory background”. OK, once more with feeling. His neighbourhood is invaded by people with a migratory background or – less politically correct – “spooks” and “gooks”, as our vet calls them. Especially unsavoury to him is the fact that the house next to him is occupied (his point of view) by gooks.
At the funeral and the reception that follows, it becomes clear that Walt Kowalski doesn’t get along with his family or children. The relationships are extremely tense and full of mutual animosity and mistrust. Walt is one of those tight-lipped men who answers with a grunt rather than a full sentence. He is suspicious and full of hatred for almost every one around him. And he loves his beer.
The family who moved in next door consists of the grandmother, the mother, a daughter and a teenage boy. The boy loves to do gardening and hangs out with his family or can be seen reading a book. This greatly displeases his cousin who belongs to a local street gang.
This gang tries to clutch the boy and wants him to join the gang. They are sexist and macho. Without really wanting to Kowalski helps the boy. The cousin however will not let go easily and the boy and his sister are in real danger. The boy’s behaviour seriously tarnishes his cousin’s street cred. This must be punished.
The neighbourhood they are living in is dangerous, especially for a girl who might get raped any minute. Some time later Kowalski helps the girl against a bunch of “spooks”. The girl and our vet get to know each other and when he calls her “gook”, she corrects him and tells him that she isn’t Vietnamese but of Hmong origin. The Hmong are mountain people, located between China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. During the war in Vietnam they were on the side of the US and were later abused, mistreated and executed by the Vietnamese. That’s why so many fled to the US, as the girl tells Kowalski.
And this is where the movie lost me for good. It drifts into some tacky redemption parable that I found all the more dishonest because of this Hmong detail. Not that I don’t think they deserve a movie, they certainly are a tragic people but to choose to focus on Hmong rather than on other immigrants – sorry, I meant people with a migratory background – is such a dishonest thing to do. It is as if Eastwood could only choose and have Kowalski accept them because they were on the side of the US. Kowalski is and stays a racist all through the movie.
The message is dubious, the movie is tacky and clichéd , the ending is corny…
Here is the link to the Hmong Net for those interested.
I actually thought the movie was okay, not great. As a straight male, I am required to like Clint Eastwood movies. Kind of like John Wayne. I agree with your analysis that the movie pulls its punches by making the Hmong “acceptable” immigrants, but I had not really caught that angle. I personally admire how Eastwood in the twilight of his career has taken on roles that are less than saintly (unlike Wayne). As you correctly point out, he remains a racist throughout the film. I think this is realistic for a Korean War vet. If you come out of the war viewing all “slant-eyes” as “gooks”, why would you change when they invade your neighborhood and you are already a grumpy old widower?
I like a few of his older movies, I’m not anti-Eastwood at all and think he is more interesting than Wayne. The character was quite believable and the acting isn’t bad at all but I found it dishonest. Why are the Korean vets so much grumpier than the Vietnam vets? It seems a cliché.
If you fought a war that is forgotten and totally eclipsed by the Vietnam War, you might be grumpy too. We had a Vietnam Memorial long before anything memorializing the Korean War. Compare the number of Korean War movies to the number of Vietnam War movies. We lost 54,000 dead in three years in Korea and 58,000 in Vietnam in 9 years. I suppose grumpy is better than PTSD. Also, the Korean War veterans grew up in a much less racially sensitive America than later generations.
I think I know what you mean. Hard to believe that would make you grumpy until the end of your days.
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