When I write about a movie with nerdy appeal, like The Transporter or Kevin Smith’s latest, it’s done wearing the metaphoric cloak of a geek that likes movies. Other times when I write about just good or bad movies, it’s done donning the cap of movie geek – a cinephile that’s foaming about some new celluloid submission. The immediate question one may ask is: How many articles of role clothing do I own and wear? Lounging in my boxer shorts of casual nonchalance, I’m not sure of the exact number.
In previewing the newest Clint Eastwood drama Gran Torino, I wear the cap of cinephile. If you thought this was about the racing game Gran Turismo, I’m sorry but I haven’t played that yet. Patronize our sponsors and I’ll be sure to get it, or send me a copy and I’ll review it – pinky swear. Until then, I’ll point out that a 1972 Ford Gran Torino is the prize possession of Eastwood’s protagonist Walt Kowalski – the most grizzled old racist and embittered Polock war vet you may ever grow to admire.
I’ve long held that Eastwood can’t make a bad movie and this one fulfills my claim yet again. It’s like the Karate Kid in reverse actually. Old white man teaches misfit Asian nerd how to be an American man – complete with racial epithets for friends and ballsy bravado. The remarkable thing is the distance he covers from his start as gook hating Korean War veteran that just wants to be left the hell alone.
Tao is played sufficiently by newcomer Bee Vang (first I’ve ever seen him, but he could be the Haley Osment of his native land, Fresno, California). The young fellow has problems with a neighborhood gang ran by his cousin – a chigger, like a wigger but Chinese. Actually they’re Mung, but Eastwood just calls the slopes the whole movie so fuck if I’m going to make a distinction. He doesn’t come to Eastwood to learn boxing of course, these dudes got guns – not to mention Clint’s penchant for euthanizing injured young athletes. He tries to steal the car to impress the thugs but ends up getting caught, dishonoring his family and getting called a pussy for the entire movie while doing chores to atone.
I like most their relationship that grows in a very realistic way. There’s no grandfather/grandson sappiness, but lots of insults and posturing that are a welcome relief from the apparent feminization of dudes in media. He becomes a neighborhood hero for his take no shit from anyone grit, but still wants to remain a solitary figure in his declining years. There is a conservative amount of ass kickage, but it’s satisfying when it occurs in defense of his young buddy Tao – and not buddy in a Brokeback way. We learn that Kowalski is moved by his execution of a young Korean prisoner and is making amends for a burden he’s carried for forty years. In the end, his efforts to protect Tao lead to his dramatic redemption, which one could see coming but is nonetheless moving.
What Unforgiven was to the typical western, Gran Torino is to the Death Wish series.