Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood's star charisma can't save this race-relations drama.

Clint Eastwood is still capable of making a good movie (most recently Letters from Iwo Jima ), but he's also entered that canonical phase of old age, where everything he does is thought to hold some kind of wisdom. Gran Torino is just sloppy---not even its cliche build-up has poetry. This attempt at an Oscar-prestige B-movie would be indefensible if it weren't for Eastwood's charm of making bigotry look like good comic fun.

He plays Walt Kowalski, a veteran of the Korean War, who hates that a family of Hmong Asians moved in beside him and then becomes their saviour. Eastwood depends on his audience never questioning his movie's celebration of white martyrdom. The Hmong teens are poorly directed, and Nick Schenk's script only sees their lives in After School Special conventions. The belittling of a white teenager who's adapted hip-hop slang and dress is used to dignify Walt's own racism. Calling the Hmong "gooks" and "sewer rats" (his racial slurs are endless and the bulk of the film's comedy) is meant to be endearing since they know he's really a great man underneath.

Surely, Walt learning not to be racist doesn't mean he has to stop making dog-eating jokes and asking for more of that "good gook food" every time he visits. Eastwood's noble message that cultural experience makes people more different from one another than the colour of their skin is burdened by the reverence of Walt's code. A large part of the film involves his developing friendship with Thao (Bee Vang), the next-door kid who he teaches how to be a man (i.e. stop making salads, and swear at your friends more). Gran Torino has a real movie star's charisma driving it, but that doesn't make it worth following.

Show us star charisma at palermo@thecoast.ca.

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