Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gran Torino

US, 2008, directed by Clint Eastwood

It's not always subtle - the central character, Walt Kowalski, literally growls in displeasure from time to time, with Eastwood very consciously channelling characters past - but there's a bracing directness to Gran Torino, which manages to craft a deft portrait of a changing midwestern community without ever losing sight of its central narrative goals. Occasionally, Eastwood is forced to shoehorn awkward speeches into the film to fill in the backstory - two early scenes, one involving Kowalski's sons, the other a persistent parish priest, are especially obvious - but for the most part the dialogue - and there's plenty of it - emerges quite naturally from the developing interactions between Kowalski and his neighbours, members of the Vietnamese Hmong community. 

Although Eastwood may overdo the relationship between Kowalski's tortured past and his prickly yet benevolent present - revealing him as a bigoted salt of the earth character - he is able to use Walt to explore themes of immigration, integration, and working class culture that more usually fall to American independent cinema (if they crop up at all). Eastwood and his writer, Nick Schenk, also evoke the disintegrating Detroit suburbs with real care, and even humour, neither condescending to the residents nor indulging in false uplift. 

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States