Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Grand Torino

A second film in succession I planned to see and then did not is the Clint Eastwood directed and acted Grand Torino. The remarkable aspect of the work of Mr Eastwood, unlike that of Wood Allen for example, is his range as well of depth of work with the Spaghetti Westerns which brought him to International attention and films such as the Bridges of Madison County and Mystic River. In Grand Torino he plays his most outrageous and potentially offensive character Walt Kowlaski who epitomises traditional red neck blue collar outlook and speech.

Walt has all the worst characteristics in that he is exceptionally foul mouthed and anti everyone and everything who do not share his set of values, especially those who are non white. Some will say, and I am up one of them, that his portrayal and interactions with his barber and the construction site foreman are realistic. What this film is about is that you should not judge because of speech, regional accents, but on what someone has done and does, or this instances does not!

When the film opens Walt is mourning the death of his wife, a fundamental Catholic who has forced her husband to attend church over the years and set the limits of what he can and cannot do within the home and family. As the film progresses we learn that whatever his banter about her in the past, he loved, respected and tried to follow her ways. While he gives the young new priest a hard time he donates their home to the church because his wife would have wished him to do that and the truth behind the veneer of his aggressive and vitriolic exterior fully emerges during his confessional when he discloses that the extent of his infidelity was a stolen kiss with a neighbour and the non payment of a small amount of Federal taxation in one instance. Despite the constant barrage of abuse directed at the pro USA Vietnamese refugees who have taken over his neighbourhood and reference to all Asians as Kooks the major sin of his life is the killing of a dozen young Koreans in battle for which he was awarded a medal

On the day of the funeral of his wife we learn of the emotional gulf between himself and his two sons, their wives and his grandchildren. They would like him to move into a retirement home so they can make use of the funds from the sale of the house. They also want his original well maintained Ford Grand Torino car which he keeps in his garage while driving an open back truck for daily run arounds. He heaps abuse on the Vietnamese neighbours who are holding a Christening party at the same time and his hostility towards them intensifies when the son in the family, attempts to steal the car, an initiation requirement into the gang headed by a cousin. This is the catalyst event around which the rest of the film centres

He intervenes when the gang calls on the home of his neighbours and his stock further increases when the neighbour’s daughter is threatened by afro Americans after the white boyfriend takes a short cut with her through their neighbourhood. Walt at first resents the gifts of food and flowers which the Vietnamese community bestows upon him. The errant son is required to undertake work for Walt by his mother and as to refuse would be regarded as an insult Walt reluctantly agrees. And he is also influence by the daughter who explains that while the young women seek an education to better themselves the young men are left to join gangs and to go to prison. When Walt arranges a construction job for the young man his cousin and leader of the gang terrorising the rest of the community attacks him, stealing his work effects and burning his face with a cigarette. Walt retaliates by beating up the leader when the henchman have departed. This however does not have the desired effect and the gang shoot up the property of the neighbours, kidnap, rape and beat up the daughter. The expectation of the brother, the community and the priests is that Walt will retaliate with greater violence and for a time the priest arranges a police presence. A knowledge of the work of .Eastwood and the nature of the film to this point, the visit to the church for his confession, the passing of his dog into the care of neighbour’s grandmother and then locking the young man in the garage to prevent his further involvement, all leads us to an inevitable conclusion. Blaming himself as he should rightly do for escalating the situation and resulting in the harm to the daughter, he places himself on the cross, visiting the gang house he puts a cigarette in his mouth and then uttering the opening of the prayer Hail Mary goes for his lighter and is shot to death by the gang members thus providing the way for the authorities to remove the young men from the neighbours for at least 15 years. Neighbours give evidence in response to the self sacrifice.

The films ends on a positive note. He has already encouraged the young man to respond to the interest of a young woman from the community and lets him use the Grand Torino on their first date. It is therefore no surprise when in his Will he leaves the vehicle to the young man.

The film follows a well worn theme, the community terrorised by the gang featured in many a Wild West tale and British Council run housing estate and the reluctance of the community to give evidence from the justified fear of reprisal until a champion emerges and then the unexpected when the champion appears to back off the public showdown, only to achieve the right objective in a way which offers the possibility of a longer term peace solution. The problem is by removing one set of villains, others will fill the apparent vacuum. There are no long term solutions, no advertising and educational campaigns against drug and alcohol use and other individual, family and community destructive problems, no social engineering or final solutions which will work, except for a time. There is just the likely challenge which we will all face during our individual lives, sometimes once, more often on several occasions when we least expect or wish to experience, and for some of us the challenge becomes more frequent. Our responses will vary according to age and circumstance and what happens, including the inevitable unintended consequences, remains unpredictable, except on film.

No comments:

Post a Comment