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Gran Torino

January 10th, 2009 by Myrhaf · 7 Comments · Movie Reviews

Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired auto worker in  Detroit. He is a crotchety old man and a racist, the last white guy in a neighborhood that now has Hmong immigrants from Laos. Kowalski calls them slopes, zips and other epithets.

Minor plot spoilers follow, but I won’t go into the climax and resolution.

The logline of the plot: The teenage Hmong boy living next door to Eastwood is pressured to join a gang. Eastwood sees value in the kid and becomes his mentor.

In VERY broad terms, the story follows the Casablanca template. The hero has renounced values and has become a cynic. He hates the world. Then he finds a value worth fighting for. “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t — damn it, I care!” It’s a powerful story that always works in the movies.

Aside from Eastwood, who plays Kowalski perfectly, there is an after school TV amateurishness to much of the acting and writing. The dialogue is wretched. At one point a Hmong girl lectures Kowalski about “our culture.” Gag.

I noticed a false note. Kowalski tells this joke in a bar to two other white guys: “A Mexican, a Jew and a colored guy walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Get the f**k out.'” Would Kowalski say “a colored guy”? Wouldn’t he use the N-word? Although he uses every other racial epithet, the movie didn’t have the stones to go all the way. Perhaps they feared the audience would dislike the central character. It was a mistake; if a character is a racist, make him a racist.

Kowalski’s transformation from mean to cuddly is a little too easy and unmotivated. A man who starts out telling the Hmong to stay off his yard has to be forced into interacting with them and getting to know them.

Aside from the amateurishness and multicultural pieties, the movie is pretty good. There is enough good stuff to make it a diverting entertainment for an evening, but it certainly is not great art. Kowalski is a Korean War veteran who still has his army rifle; he loves America and he has a garage full of tools. He is an interesting fellow to get to know. Kowalski and his Gran Torino symbolize an America now gone: a time when men and cars had muscle.

7 Comments so far ↓

  • madmax

    “Wouldn’t he use the N-word? Although he uses every other racial epithet, the movie didn’t have the stones to go all the way.”

    There are some minorities that are more “protected” than others by the Left. Blacks are the most protected. My guess is that is because they are perceived as being the most discriminated against. Egalitarianism would not allow a group which is perceived as being the ultimate “have not” to be insulted. But Asians are a very productive minority who may even have a higher mean income than whites. Therefore the degree of “protection” for them is less. This is all part of the unwritten speech code that is know as political correctness.

  • Justin

    Asian Americans on average do actually have higher incomes than whites. Undoubtedly it’s due to a generally high regard for hard work in that culture.

    Interestingly, Carribean blacks who have immigrated here also typically have higher incomes than whites. Don’t expect the multiculturalists to sing that statistic from the rooftops though–it might explode their discrimination-is-dominant worldview. Viewing the world through the lens of racial injustice renders everyone guilty of behavior motivated by the magnitude of melanin content–while filtering out inconvenient statistics such as that one. Some of the more absurd b.s. I’ve been hearing spun out of academia recently is racism without any evidence–it’s so ingrained in people that they can’t possibly ever view it in themselves. If there’s a shred of sense left in our culture, that is multiculturalism’s death gasp: claims based on nothing but assertion; multicultural mysticism.

    Both of those statistics were discussed in Thomas Sowell’s book, The Economics and Politics of Race. It’s chock-full of statistics showing that cultures, and their respective attitudes toward the virtue of productivity, play a big role in determining economic prosperity (well, duh?). It talks about the transplanted Germans who played a large role in getting mining started in South America, as well as Chinese immigrants who created vast businesses in Southeast Asia–and who were attacked for being “predatory” on the local populace, with bad consequences for the prosperity of those who threw them out. And the wheel turns.

  • Flibbert

    I hated the movie. The touching theme wasn’t nearly enough to get me past the horrible acting and awful script.

  • Jim May

    I’m not sure about the “N-word” versus “colored” thing in the context of the movie, having not yet seen it. But pending that, I am not convinced that it is any sort of inaccuracy.

    “Colored” was a common term among my parent’s generation for non-whites, of a similar age to Kowalski — it was one of the earlier PC terms before it was swapped out for “black” and now “African-American”. I’ve always associated it with the vestigial race-consciousness of a generation whose parents were often openly racist, but were themselves much more familiar with genuine American liberalism and its antipathy to collectivism. It thusly fits the context of a Korean War veteran — “colored” was a common term for blacks, but having fought Asians, he’d likely have greater motive to use the nastier epithets for them.

  • Burgess Laughlin

    Jim May is, as usual, on the right track. In Houston 50 years ago and New Orleans 45 years ago–before Jim Crow laws and related customs faded–I saw signs saying “Colored” (as distinct from “White”) over water fountains, restrooms, and even the drive-in entrances to car-repair garages. (Amusingly, the Colored entrance led to exactly the same repair bays as the White entrance.)

    People who were benevolent, whether rascist or not, used “negro” or “colored,” while haters used “nigger,” “jig” (“jigaboo”), “coon,” or “shine.” Rational people don’t need any word of racial disparagement, much less four or more of them.

  • Burgess Laughlin

    Speaking of movies and racism, one of my favorite movies is A Soldier’s Story. I love success stories. Set in the early 1940s, during WWII, this story shows a hero who is admirable. He is an officer assigned to investigate a murder on an army base in the Deep South. I thought the acting was superb. I saw the movie three times.

  • Madmax

    A Soldier’s Story is a classic movie. It was one of the best movies I ever saw. It stars a young Denzel Washington and the now deceased Howard Rollins. It is a truly great movie. I don’t know if such a movie could be made today.