A Critique of Gran Torino
A Critique of Gran Torino
No other film has ever superseded Clint Eastwood’s euphoric aura in diverse acting as much as Gran Torino. Gran Torino narrates the fictitious events encompassing Walt Kowalski, a veteran from the Korean War who has lost his wife recently. Kowalski is angry at the world. His anger is compounded by the fact that he is a victim of alienation. A turn of events occurs when Thao Lang Vor, his youthful neighbor, is coaxed by his cousin into stealing Walt’s cherished 1972 Ford Gran Torino in order to become initiated into a gang. However, Walt frustrates the theft and consequently develops a bond with the young man and his family. The movie Gran Torino incorporates the theme of racism and violence through the notion of selflessness, love and other qualities and features that could be assessed in order to provide a critique.
The narrative structure of Gran Torino flows smoothly with the film’s genre, which is melodrama. This is because the composition comprises a clear structured situation, disorder and resolution. The situation intrinsic of the narrative involves Walt’s Kowalski widowed life. The disorder incorporates the introduction and inclusion of the criminal gang and the resolution involves mitigating the gang’s actions and at the same time solving the problem of racism through violence and death of Kowalski. The film possesses the objective of solving the problem associated with Kowalski’s racist nature. The narrative of Gran Torino provides a clear-cut resolution in the sense that it solves the predicament of gang culture and correspondingly, solves the racist nature of Walt Kowalski, which is predetermined by the narrative in the situation.
In addition, the plot incorporates a strong chronological and linear style. This is because of the presence of an organized course of events in the complete film commencing from the starting scene of the funeral service to the attempted burglary by Thao, through to the cordial relationship created between the Hmong and Kowalski and lastly, to the climax where Kowalski is shot by the gang. Additionally, the narrative of Gran Torino also employs the use of flashback in order to depict Kowalski’s treasured good old days at the time when he lived in his neighborhood. Nevertheless, use of minimal flashbacks has provided the film with a linear story that is simple to follow right through the film therefore making it unproblematic for the audience to comprehend.
Consequently, the narrative takes place in a high-class estate in Michigan that is prone to crime. The conflict is illustrated where a gang attempts to coax a young teenager, Thao, into crime by pressuring him to steal Kowalski’s Ford Gran Torino. However, the conflict escalates when Kowalski finds Thao committing the act and nearly shoots him. In addition, the characters experience internal conflict with issues that encompass the neighborhood. For instance, Kowalski struggles to fight against the fact that his wife is already dead, his failure as a father of two sons, the dynamic change in his neighborhood as well as the nature of racism in his blood, which makes him despise his own neighbors. In addition, Gran Torino employs the use of symbolism to facilitate the protagonist’s life. One of the major symbols in the film is the death of Walt Kowalski.
The fact that his death comes at the end of the film symbolizes the end of violence and racism in the neighborhood. Moreover, the death of Kowalski provides meaning to the cease of racism, violence since Kowalski is the most racist, and violent character in the film and thus his death represented the end of bigotry and violence through selfness and sacrifice. Consequently, the narrative introduces the concept of allegory. For instance, one of the main images used in the film is Kowalski’s large white Ford Pickup truck. As an allegoric symbol, the truck considerably represents a bigger representation of masculine identity. The truck that Kowalski drives does not only depict him as a character but also acts as a correspondence to the idea of tough masculinity. The film also incorporates the use of irony. The verbal irony, which can be seen when Sue tells Kowalski that Thao washing his car is ironic, considering that, he is the same person that attempted to steal his car (Eastwood, et al, 2009).
The film enables the viewer to relate to the characters, especially with the experiences that they face because of violence in the neighborhood. Social ills present in the film are characteristic of a deviant society that struggles for resources at the expense of other people’s tangible and abstract possessions. One of the characters that the viewer can relate to is Sue Vang Lor. Sue Vang Lor is the victim of violence in the film because of the gang’s actions of retaliation against Eastwood and the Vang Lors. In order to escalate the level of violence, the gang rapes Sue forcing Kowalski to engage in another retaliatory attack thus leaving to the idiom of violence begetting more violence. Nevertheless, the viewer is able to relate to Kowalski’s feelings since a similar situation would lead to one using revenge as the best means of attack and justice against the perpetrator.
The film comprises a considerable cast that includes Hmong Americans. The protagonist and the main character in the film is Clint Eastwood who plays Walt Kowalski, a retired, racist and embittered Korean War veteran stained by the torment of his wife’s death. Bee Vang, who plays the role of Thao Vang Lor, a youthful Hmong teenager, Ahney Her as Thao’s elder sister, Sue, Christopher Carley as Father Janovich, Doua Moua as Thao’s cousin, Fong who is the Hmong gang’s shot caller and antagonist and Sonny Vue as Smokie, Fong’s right-hand man. Other main characters in the film include Brian Haley as Walt’s eldest son and brother to Steve and father of Josh and Ashley, Mitch Kowalski, Brian Howe as Steve Kowalski, Geraldine Hughes as Mitch’s wife, Karen Kowalski, Dreama Walker as Mitch and Karen’s daughter, Ashley Kowalski and Michael Kurowski as Mitch and Karen’s son, Josh Kowalski. Supporting actors in the main cast include Chee Thao as Grandma Vang Lor, Choka Kue as Youa and Scott Eastwood as Sue’s date, Trey (Eastwood, et al, 2009).
Gran Torino employs different types of characters or actors. However, majority of the actors are first time actors and commonly take different acting roles. Clint Eastwood, who was the leading actor in the film, adopts the role of a wild card actor. This is because of the different characters he is able to adapt to in different films. Additionally, other characters that mostly comprise Hmong Americans are mostly new actors and take on first-time character roles. Film acting has its specificities. It is characterized by less emphasized movement, which is opposite to stage acting, which is usually characterized by displaying noisy overtone movement. Additionally, Gran Torino employs less stylized acting. Using stylized acting allows the audience to connect with the role the actor plays. Since the film is serious and dramatic, stylized acting is limited in order for the audience to take the narrative and the characters seriously (Buckland, 2003).
The film utilizes the mise en scene excellently and effectively. Gran Torino uses the mise en scene to the extent of the narration of this specific story. During the sending-off service of Kowalski’s wife at the church service, there is an outstanding utilization of a high-angle shot. The shot separates Kowalski from the whole congregation. This shot positions him in a setting where he seems to be overstrained by the difficulty of bearing his wife’s death. The priest, in the church service, has also been framed in a manner that detaches him from using a low-angle medium shot that illustrates his authority in consoling the bereaved. At one point, a close-up shot of Kowalski and his family is evident, which brings out the grief in their eyes. This is followed by an acute close-up shot of Kowalski struggling to listen to the priest’s sermon depicting the reality that he is only tolerant for his wife’s sake.
There is also evidence of an intense disposition of the cinematographic style utilized in the film. Low-key lighting has been used considerably in the film to create mood. This is used especially in scenes that illustrate Kowalski as the focus. For example, when the priest pays a visit to Kowalski at his house, lighting is used systematically where the priest is fully illuminated while Kowalski is partially illuminated. This difference in illumination illustrates the extent of Kowalski’s depression, whereas the priest depicts optimism in the end. Low-key lighting is also evident where Thao creeps into the garage to pilfer the Gran Torino. This lighting provides realism and authenticity to the entire scene.
The film Gran Torino, utilizes linear editing, which is strictly followed through the entire film. The story is narrated in a simplistic manner that has been augmented through the inclusion of linear editing. Nevertheless, various specific scenes exist in which the director uses action-cut editing and jump cuts for enhancing the narrative. For example, the scene in which Thao assists Kowalski to fix the roof depicts an even transition of shots that present action continuity. Continuity editing is also illustrated in the scene in which Kowalski rescues the Hmong from the street gang and the Hmong presents him with gifts. This type of editing has provided the film with a beautiful look. Jump cut editing has been used cautiously in other scenes such as those that involve the gang attacking the Hmong house at once through shooting at the home.
Gran Torino employs various sounds in order to provide the audience with a state of belonging to the film’s milieu. One of the main sounds used in the film is music. Music has been utilized in the film to enable culture blending. Additionally, the music used in Gran Torino creates an atmosphere of different emotions. For instance, the film’s opening song begins playing lightly and thus creates an atmosphere that exudes sad emotions that enable the viewer to think. Additionally, the music is an instrumental tune from the opening song. The song creates a soothing mood since it is unhurried and gentle in its sound. Equally, the music is deemed as non-diegetic since it is played before the start of the first scene. The music, which is non-diegetic, turns into diegetic sounds in the beginning of the first scene. The sounds are illustrated where birds can be noticed outside the church and an organ being played within the church in the background. Consequently, non-diegetic sounds of drums are present in a scene where Kowalski asks for a light. The short musical drum roll only stays for a few seconds after which it changes into a solitary string instrument as Kowalski speaks to the gang again. Because of this, the neighborhood’s diegetic sound can be heard providing the sound with more depth. Sound effects are evident in the last scene where there is gunfire. Additionally, soft and somber music accompanies the sound effects of gunfire in the scene depicting the gravity of death and the sadness that accompanied Kowalski’s demise with respect to the viewer.
Style and Directing
The director of the film indeed employs essential elements that are intrinsic of the auteur theory. The three premises that Gran Torino’s director employs throughout the film include technical competency, distinguishable personality and interior meaning (Buckland, 2003). Based on technical competency, the director structures the film’s form to include a linear and continuous flow that allows the viewer to understand the film coherently. On distinguishable personality, it is evident that the film incorporates Eastwood’s (the director) personality with respect to other films that he has acted. On interior meaning, Eastwood invokes greater and symbolized meaning in the film. These meanings are considerably centered on the implications of racism and violence in the society. Gran Torino is similar to other Eastwood’s past works such as Dirty Harry and Million Dollar Baby, since both movies reflect the anti-hero aspect in the narratives. Additionally, the director employs most traditional techniques that emphasize on continuity and linearity in the film. In the film, Eastwood attempts to convey the themes of racism and violence. Regardless of him being a racist character, Eastwood depicts that racism has no place in society indicated by his death to save the Hmong community regardless of his racist tendencies towards them.
The film, though fictitious, does not employ escapism. The viewer does not escape his or her daily life because of the fact that the film concentrates on aspects that come along life such as death, life, love, relationships and tribulations. Regardless of the film being considered as a family film, censorship has been used to cut out or block swears and abuses that were mostly from Kowalski’s racist slurs. Additionally, Gran Torino does not comprise cut scenes. However, the director’s cut featured scenes that were cut, which limited the period of the film to two hours. On a societal perspective, Gran Torino addresses controversial social issues. One of the main social issues that it addresses to is racism. The fact that the main character, Walt Kowalski, is a racist indicates the gravity to which the film seeks to convey the message of racism. Additionally, death of Kowalski also symbolizes the reduction of racism in America since Kowalski, who is a white man, dies while having reformed his racist ways by developing a bond with the Hmong family (Eastwood, et al, 2009).
The main genre that characterizes the film is melodrama. This is attributed to the fact that the film employs aspects or rather the stages of Condition, Commotion and Resolution (Buckland, 2003). Consequently, the film falls under the category of genre film because it possesses conventions that are utilized effectively to convey messages. Moreover, the film employs allegory using emblems or symbols to convey something else. Various elements of a relevant genre can assist the viewer in understanding the film better since they allow the viewer to distinguish between various genres that films possess. By using other films evident in the relevant genre, comparative appraisal can assist in understanding the movie exceptionally.
Film Criticism and Analysis
The referential content in Gran Torino is centered on the youth as criminals. This is because the referential content focuses on worldly issues that affect the society. Gran Torino focuses on addressing the criminal susceptibility of the youth to crime indicated by the street gang in the film. The explicit content in the film is not based on the film’s overall theme but another meaning that develops throughout the film’s context such as true masculinity. Masculinity is explicit but it is not the film’s theme. Instead, various symbols represent masculinity in American context such as guns, Kowalski’s personality and the Ford Pickup truck. The film also comprises implicit meaning, which is indicated where the racial utterances by Kowalski, through indirect and direct speech acts, imply that most of the civilians in the neighborhood are Hmong. The symptomatic content that can be used to analyze Gran Torino is the value of selfness and love, which can be used to explain the main theme of the film, which is racism. One of the main analytical techniques that can be used to analyze the film is the Contextualist Approach. Since the film is considerably based on social values, the approach will be beneficial as it will allow the viewer to see incidents in the movie in social context since the film concerns that aspect.
Gran Torino is a movie that highlights an unfamiliar issue based on the proof that its fundamental focus is Kowalski who leads the show. The film’s tempo highly makes it boring regardless of its tenacity. However, Eastwood’s smooth acting makes it interesting. Regardless, the film will continuews to withstand time since it is based on issues that affect society’s past and present. Racial segregation and ethic issues are global dilemmas that should be mitigated in a manner that will be appealing to people, herein this film. In general, Gran Torino is an average film that lacks the distinguishing factor but is captivating and interesting nevertheless.
Buckland, W. (2003). Film Studies. London: Teach Yourself.
Eastwood, C., Eastwood, C., Carley, C., Vang, B., & Her, A. (2009). Gran Torino. Burbank: Warner Home Video.