It has hesitant to watch this movie because I knew a little about the premise and knew it would be an emotional experience, so I kept it on my desk for several days until I decided I was in a good mental state to handle the thematic material. (aka–watching it after going through a moving process to a new rental house with “quirks” like a leaking roof and exploding hot water heater was not a great idea)
So, I popped it in last night, homemade mojito in hand, and actually found it more touching than heart-breaking, and there is a definite difference. For example, when I watched “Time Travelers Wife” (which I have not reviewed on this blog but watched recently), I found myself in a veritable puddle of tears. I had read the book and knew what was coming, but it still broke my heart and I was up quite late trying to calm down and think happy thoughts before drifting off to sleep.
However, “Gran Torino” did not have that sad, “lost love” quality that is a different kind of emotional effect. It deals heavily with race relations, gang violence and war guilt–all sad, but a different kind of sad.
Clint Eastwood plays the curmudgeon veteran living in a neighborhood that once was predominantly occupied by folks similar to him–white, upper-middle class war veterans. However, through the years and like the way many suburbs across the country have shifted with time, the area is now heavily populated with immigrants and their progeny. In this instance, they are the Hmong people, those displaced in Laos, Vietnam, and China after they fought with the Americans during the Vietnam War.
Eastwood’s character (Walt Kowalski) is a racist and is disconnected from everyone in his life except his Labrador retriever, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and his 1951 Gran Torino (thus the title of the film). The film chronicles a shift in his life as he grows to know and love the Hmong people next door. He sorts through his hatred and guilt for past sins thanks to the persistence of his Catholic priest, a doe-eyed ginger who made a promise to Kowalski’s wife on her deathbed to try to bring Walt into the folds of the church.
The film depicts the horrors of gang violence, the challenges immigrants face in America, and the difficulty some veterans have in navigating the emotions associated with a group of people who might resemble a former enemy.
It is powerful and Clint Eastwood brings his “wild west” persona to life in a new way at the end of the film (you will have to see that for yourself). I think that every American should watch “Gran Torino” to learn a little something about racial/gang violence as it exists today. I think many would agree that the film offers a very realistic depiction of what this world is really like.