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Gran Torino Film Critique

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Gran Torino Film Critique
ENG 225
March 17, 2013

Gran Torino Film Critique

Gran Torino is a drama about redemption, helping others, and demonstrates how we are all the same regardless of cultural differences. The movie focuses on the relationship Walt develops with his Hmong neighbors. Walt manages to strategically save the life of the boy next door, Thao. Walt helps Thao get his life back on track. Thao has been coerced to partake into his cousin’s gang. The gang forces Thao to steal Walt’s Gran Torino. Once Walt finds Thao in his garage trying to steal his Gran Torino, he knows that something has gone wrong with Thao. At this point, the drama in the story soars, as Walt begins his personal quest to protect Thao. Walt tries his best not to reveal that he has a caring soul but that he is an angry and grumpy old man. Later the film reveals that Walt is the complete opposite of angry and grump. As the story unfolds and the gangbangers return and Walt reaches for his gun, the film moves from comedy, drama, tragedy, and then into something unexpected.
Nick Schenk wrote Gran Torino and his inspiration with the Hmong culture. Schenk placed a Hmong family next door to a Korean War veteran. The main story line develops as the Korean War veteran (Clint Eastwood) learns to adapt and interact with the Hmong family. Clint Eastwood directed, produced, and starred in the drama Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood began his acting career in low budget films in 1955. In 1959 he got he made his big debut on the TV series Rawhide. Clint Eastwood’s first starring role was in the western movie A Fistful of Dollars in 1964, which was followed by two more spaghetti westerns: For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. His acting in these western movies made him a star. Clint Eastwood produced and starred in many movies throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s. One of his biggest blockbusters was Gran Torino in 2009. J. Williams (2009) from the McClatchy Tribune explains that, “Gran Torino is the culmination of Eastwood's long process of critiquing his persona” (Jan 2009). Gran Torino is a brilliant movie that demonstrates real life social events. Eastwood takes a simple-minded approach in Gran Torino; he did not complicate or belabor the cultural differences. The setting of the film “Gran Torino” takes place in the high crime area of Detroit, Michigan. The location of the film was a very important part of the production. The director needed to find a location that would meet all the requirements necessary to highlight the different lifestyles and cultures of both Walt and the Hmong family. The set is taken mostly in neighborhood in Highland Park, where Walt is the only American living among Hmong immigrants. The neighborhood Walt has lived in for over 30 years is no longer populated with lower to middle class white American’s, but is now a commonplace for gang violence and is heavily populated with Asians. It angered Walt to see what had become of his neighborhood. In Walt’s house the scenes were mainly dark around the character, to demonstrate his anger and grumpiness. Walt’s has emotional scars that he has kept in his memory from fighting in the Korean War. He’s a very stubborn and prejudice man although he has a fair way of viewing things in life. Walt’s neighbors are a Hmong family that consists of a grandmother, her daughters and her daughter’s two children, Sue and Thao. Rafer Guzman, author in Newsday, concludes that Walt “becomes a reluctant father figure to Thao and his precocious sister, Sue whom he calls "zipper head" and "dragon lady," respectively” (p. B-15). Sue is very outgoing and fearless, where Thao is very shy and bright.
The plot begins around the main character named Walt. Walt is a Polish-American, retired Ford factory and Korean War veteran, who recently loss his wife. Walt has a strained relationship with both his sons, and his wife’s priest promised to visit him regularly. He has never been close to either of his son’s because did not know how to be a father to them. Instantly, Walt develops a bad perception of the Hmong family that moves in next door. He doesn’t know them but feels like they are taking over his neighborhood and this agitates literally. He becomes very hostile towards them because he does not want to be their friend. Author Sunny Bunch (2009), of the Washington post, describes Walt’s, “interactions with his Hmong neighbors and the unself-conscious, unapologetic racism he throws their way - as well as the casual racism the elder Hmong reciprocate with - is a humorously true-to-life” (p. B-10).
The key moral of the story is not to judge someone by his or her color or cultural beliefs, and that everyone should be treated equal. Due to a violent threat from the Hmong gangbangers, Thao tries and fails to steal Walt’s 1972 Gran Torino, and nearly loses his life to it’s angry and armed owner, Walt. Thao sister Sue forces Thao into an arrangement working for Walt because he was caught trying to steal the car. Neither Thao nor Walt want this arrangement but decide it is fair punishment. As the story unfolds, Walt learns more about the Hmong family and you can see his attitude changes in a positive direction towards them and he is no longer hostile towards them.
The use of color scheme promotes the development of the theme and plot in this film. An example is in the presentation of the American flag and its red, white and blue colors are seen throughout the film. Walt is always framed with these colors in different scenes. Even his beer of choice, Pabst Blue Ribbon, contains red, white, and blue colors. These colors are constant reminders of Walt’s American culture. Another example of how color promotes the theme can be found in Walt’s Gran Torino. The Gran Torino is cherry red, and displays the colors of the Korean War 1st Calvary emblem, which is green, black, and yellow in color. The Gran Torino symbolizes Walt’s rage and hatred against his now neighborhood filled with Asian families.
As the storyline continues you enjoy seeing Walt and Thao’s relationship develop. Walt takes Thao under his wing, by teaching him various things about becoming a man. Walt also protects him when the Hmong gangbangers attack him. Walt wakes up the next morning to discover his porch filled with gifts from his neighbors. This is where we begin to see a new side to Walt that you would not have imagined seeing at the beginning of the film. Walt’s character changed because he understands the value of friendship. Walt accepts an invitation to dinner from Thao’s family and later develops a liking for Hmong food. Later, Walt confesses his sins about not being a good father although he never confesses to what happened in the Korean War. Walt finds harmony with him self and realizes that people should never be judged by what they look like and that everyone should be given a chance.
The most powerful scene in the film is where Walt confronts the gang members outside their house at night. An establishing shot is used to show the viewers the Walt walking towards the gang member’s house. This shot makes Walt appear to be powerful and in control. The light is low and appears to be coming from the direction of the moon. You can hear noise several noises from the background: crickets, dog barking, and people can be heard faintly. Suspense builds as the camera provides a shot of Walt looking at the house, with only his face lit with light. The camera moves slowly towards Walt. The gang members notice Walt is outside their house and begin to walk outside. The gang members stand in front of Walt, and the camera provides a wide shot them. You can see the neighbors in the background watching to see what is going on, as they continue their conversation. This leads the viewer to believe that nothing bad will happen because there are many witnesses. The leader of the gang pulls out a weapon, while Walt continues to talk and stand up for the neighbors to the gang members. Walt picks a cigarette from his jacket pocket, which unnerves the gang, as they are still not sure of Walt’s intentions. Three distinguished shots are made of all gang members drawing their weapons.
A pivotal point in the film happens when Walt states to the gang members, “Kinda jumpy aren’t we?” meaning that he is not threatened by them. Walt then makes a gun shape with his fingers and pretends to shoot each gang member, whish is something Walt does throughout the film as a warning not to cross the line with him. The sound of drums comes into the scene, as Walt asks if anyone has a light. There is a short rhythm to the drum roll that last for a few seconds then turns into a stringed instrument just as he begins to talk again. Walt then says, “I’ve got a light” and slowly begins to reach into his jacket pocket. The stringed instrument climbs up a note and the rhythm drum roll chimes in again. The back and forth sound effects build tension for the viewer. Walt reaches into his jacket and quickly withdraws only his hand. This action agitates the gang members into believing Walt has pulled out his gun.
The soft music stops with a violent sound of gunfire. The gang opens fire directed at Walt, the camera captures a shot of his chest as bullets whale into him. The speed of the camera is slowed down to display the impact of the gunfire on Walt. Cuts are made to show the gang members continuously shooting at Walt’s limp body. A medium shot is used to capture Walt falling down in slow motion with the sound of air brushing by him, as he falls into the grass on his back. As he lands in the grass, you can hear a faint sound of his last gasp of breath. Both of his arms lay out by his sides, allowing the viewers to see what he did draw from his jacket pocket. The camera begins to focus onto Walt’s hand as it opens to reveal a lighter. In this part of the scene, Walt’s hand is well lit, as the shot begins to pan over his body. This scene suggests that Walt had noting to lose in confronting the gang members. A soft piano sound begins to conclude Walt’s death. The shot moves slowly upward to display Walt’s body. Then the scene is dissolved into flashing police lights.
In many ways, Gran Torino provides an anti-racist message to viewers. Walt’s character is filled with bitterness and resentment towards people and fails to understand due to his own innate prejudices. One of Gran Torino’s great ironies is that Walt himself comes from an immigrant background. Some of Walt’s friends such as the barber had an Italian heritage and his friend the construction worker had an Irish heritage. There is one scene in the bar where Walt tells a joke, “ A Mexican, a Jew, and a colored guy go into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, Get the f--k out of here” (Eastwood, 2008), this demonstrates that Walt and his friends do not accept others. Walt is open to all about his racist views, but he is quickly agitated when meeting worthless men who cannot defend themselves or hide their nothingness behind violence. In the Hmong culture, boys are expected to join a gang. Thao has no choice but to join the gangbangers and Walt does not agree with this part of the Hmong culture. Walt takes Thao under his wing and becomes the Father he did not have. Walt begins to develop feelings for Thao and his family, which helps him to over come his racist beliefs.
Gran Torino is a drama about redemption, helping others, and demonstrates how we are all the same regardless of cultural differences. Clint Eastwood has given us a hero in this film through Walt’s character. In the beginning of the film, Walt had no interest in anyone other than his self and he hated the fact that he was out numbered by the many Hmong families that lived in his neighborhood. Thao who was forced by the gangbangers to steal Walt’s Gran Torino from his garage, and is caught red handed by Walt. To make good of a bad experience, Walt unwillingly entered a relationship with his neighbor Thao. Walt had no interest in understanding the Hmong culture, but as he gets to know Thao he is exposed to more than he wants to learn about the Hmong culture and realizes that they are no different than him. An act of violent leads Walt to take a stand for Thao, Thao’s family, and also for his Hmong neighbors who have endured the gangbanger’s antics. Clint Eastwood did a great job directing this film because it was easily relatable and very close to reality. The film contains issues that everyone can relate to on a personal level regarding racism, cultural differences, violence, and family matters. Gran Torino message is that we are all the same people if you remove the cultural stereotypes.

* *

References:
Bunch, S. (2009, Jan). The Washington Times: Gran opening for 'Torino”. Washington Times. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/410035190?accountid=32521
Eastwood, C (2008). Gran Torino DVD. Warner Brothers
Guzman, R. (2008, Dec). “Gran Torino”. Newsday. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/280322799?accountid=32521
Williams, J. (2009, Jan). “Gran Torino”. McClatchy Tribune Business News. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/456313082?accountid=32521

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