Gran Torino - Analytical Essay
1060 WordsSep 25th, 20135 Pages
Analytical Essay - Gran Torino
Q. What kind of man is Walt Kowalski? Examine character development throughout the film Gran Torino?
Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) is a portrayal of human sacrifice and the racial intolerance that still exists in modern America. The film is set in a poor neighbourhood of Detroit. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a war veteran who has brooded over his experiences in the war for decades. Past trauma has caused him to believe that he cannot trust anyone, and he has therefore developed a deep racism. Eastwood uses many different techniques, including lighting, camera angles, and dialogue to show how the man Walt Kowalski develops throughout the film. Kowalski begins as an angry,…show more content…
He then aims his gun at the gang, and drives them away. Kowalski says, “Get off my lawn”, and it is left ambiguous whether he is defending Thao’s family, or he simply just does not want anyone of a minority on his lawn. Once again, half of Kowalski’s face is shrouded by shadow, and at the same time the music reaches a climax, violins at an extremely high pitch, as if he is battling inner demons – whether to shoot or not. Eastwood compels the audience to think the Kowalski is a man struggling with his past, and that he can be volatile.
Kowalski’s intolerance also finds its way into his relationship with his own family, specifically his relationship with his sons and their children. This is evident when one of his grandchildren, his son’s daughter asks, “So, what are you going to do with it [his car], when you, like, die”. This to Kowalski is exceedingly disrespectful, and makes him even more cynical and angry than he was before, as if proving him right that values are not as they should be. Kowalski also goes to the doctors, were he finds out that he has cancer. He then calls his son, trying to tell him. As Kowalski is struggling to say it, the camera pans over a photo of Kowalski and his wife, on their wedding day. Here, Eastwood indicated to the audience that Kowalski still misses his wife, and the past. It then shows Kowalski in the mirror, whilst on the phone. This shows that Kowalski is starting to reflect on his
The Ford Gran Torino earned its footnote in pop culture history when a ketchup-red 75 model with a white racing stripe was featured every week in the TV cop show Starsky and Hutch. The model shown here is an earlier vintage, 1972, and its owner's glory days would appear to be from around the same era. This is widower, retired car worker, military veteran and seething American patriot Walt Kowalski, played with grandstanding gusto and unfakable star quality by Clint Eastwood. (Eastwood also directs and produces.) Walt bought one of the Gran Torinos that he helped to manufacture - "right off the line" - but keeps it in pristine condition in the garage, while he rumbles around town in an old Ford pickup, glowering at foreign automobiles and their disloyal American owners.
We join the story as the ageing Walt has just lost his wife and, at the funeral, has to endure the supercilious homilies of a young priest (whose religion he tolerated for his late wife's sake) along with the insolence and lack of respect displayed by his smug grownup sons, both foreign-car owners, and their unspeakable teenage children. The neighbourhood has gone all to hell, too. The house next door is now owned by a Hmong family - a widespread South-east Asian minority - and Walt does not trouble to distinguish them from the Koreans he fought in the 1950s, of whom, we are later to learn, he despatched at least 13.
Walt is a racist; he is a resenter of the spooks, gooks and mooks, mentally lumped in with all the local criminals and gangbangers around town who are undermining decent values. The political becomes personal when Thao (Bee Vang), a shy, bookish teenage boy who lives next door to Walt is bullied by his thuggish cousin and no-good buddies into joining their gang. His initiation test is to bust into Walt's garage and steal his treasured Gran Torino. Sure enough, Thao's incompetent nocturnal raid triggers Walt's halogen security lights and Walt comes running with the M1 assault rifle he keeps cleaned and ready - keen to bring his score up to 14. The meeting of Walt and Thao is to change both their lives.
Eastwood's performance as Walt is a treat. No one could have animated the role like this and no one else could conceivably have got away with the racist tirades, reactionary arias and bigoted broadsides. He gets away with it because we know full well that he is eventually going to reveal that great big bruised and hurting heart-of-gold hidden under the faded grey T-shirt. Eastwood, at the age of 78, can carry off the essentially comic combination of elderly mannerisms and cowboy menace. He has his belt hitched up high like an old geezer and his short-sleeved shirt reveals his wrinkly elbows, and his long senior-citizen forearms. Yet there is something potent about his narrow-eyed gaze of righteous loathing, a facial tic perhaps learned originally by leaning into a telescopic gunsight; it's a crinkling of the eye muscles that also brings the corners of his mouth out into a silent snarl. When relaxed, and even smiling, his face resembles the one shown on his creased wedding photo: the one he had as a boy.
Very often, Walt communicates only in a soft growl, an inchoate version of the whispery-croaky threats and insults that are his stock in trade. There is a bravura moment when Walt rolls past in his pickup, just as black guys are threatening Thao's smart, feisty cousin Sue (Ahney Her), while she is out walking with a local white boy who ingratiatingly, and catastrophically, tries to affect gangsta style to placate them. The cranky old grandpa faces them down and even pulls a gun, then subtly establishes his psychological mastery of the situation by making it clear he shares the blacks' contempt for Sue's creepy pseudo-urban date: "They're not your 'bro', and I don't blame them!"
The politics of racial insult become even more complex when Walt takes Thao on a visit to his local barber in order to give him a masterclass in the friendly exchange of insults traditionally performed by this "polack" and "wop". When Thao tries it, the barber is furious and from nowhere produces a pump-action shotgun. The lesson is clear. Knockabout ethnic comedy is OK when it is performed by your white elders and betters.
Like its hero, this movie is a great big sentimental softie under its tough-guy persona. Still very conservative, though. The progressive revelation of this fact in a number of jolting plot transitions is a little tough to take. Finally, Walt makes a confession to this baby-faced priest and lovably admits to once kissing a lady who wasn't his wife and not paying his taxes: no mention of threatening people with guns and pistol-whipping a gangster, though. There is also the question of how Walt finally puts away his nasty attitudes to minorities and becomes a better person: I'm not sure I entirely buy this, and the transformation is questionable.
This is still an enjoyably big, brash, macho melodrama, saved from absurdity by Eastwood's cracking performance. It isn't his late masterpiece: I think his Iwo Jima movies fit that bill better. But it is almost certainly Clint Eastwood's final acting appearance: a must-see on that account if nothing else.