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GRAN TORINO, 2008
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GRAN TORINO
Movie Review
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
Review by Matthew Toffolo



SYNOPSIS:

Disgruntled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski's prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino.

REVIEW:

Gran Torino is a film about regret and trying to overcome it, no matter how old you are. But it's not about the regrets you've made in life, it's about the regrets of things you didn't do.

In most of our lives, that is true. We tend to regret all of the actions we didn't take. From not talking to your father before he died, to not asking that girl in grade school out to the school dance. Most of our regrets are about the things we didn't do because fear held us back. Or, in the case of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a lot of our regrets all from the things we had to do but didn't want to do. Like killing a man in the Korean War. It was either you or him, so you had to do what you had to do. It's just that you didn't want to do it.

So when being asked by his deceased wife's Priest to go to confession and finally confess his sins, Walt really can't do that. His sins are not action oriented. Life is not that black and white like perhaps the Catholic church wants it to be.

I loved Gran Torino. It hits you on every single emotional level. And it tells you that people do change if they want to, no matter how old they are.

Walt doesn't have much time left. A bit of him is already gone as his wife just passed away. That's how the movie begins, with Walt and his family at the funeral. There's a great opening sequence from Walt's point of view as he sizes up his kids and grandkids. He looks at them from an observers perceptive without any emotional attachments. He doesn't like what he sees. Some of it is judgement of them and some of himself. There is a disconnect and it's impossible to find that connection again. A great way to start a film as we learn so much about our main character without him ever saying a word.

There are always great lessons to be learned in most Eastwood films on how to tell a story.

The #1 thing for me is learning how to use music in film. Like a great Western, Eastwood only uses music is sporadic moments, usually to set up a climatic situation in the film. As most Hollywood films drown you with music DURING the climatic moment, Eastwood's films never do that as if the director is doing his/her job, you don't need music to tell you how to feel. Music should set up a situation, just like a transition shot or an actor's performance does.

Like all great directors, Eastwood stays close to the same themes in all of his films:

- There is always a spirituality/organized religion conflict happening. His main characters are people who are searching for true meaning and knowing organized religion doesn't do that. So they are conflicted because they want the church to do for them for what it appears to be for others. Either they become misguided or they get closer to their spiritual self because of this conflict.

- There are always unique friendships in his films. People who connect who are different people and most times from different worlds. Usually there is a common goal attached that sets up the connection. But Eastwood is always looking for that universal connection within his films. Jeffrey P Nesker

- With those friendships, they are usually father, mother/son, daughter like relationships. A mentor/protege setup so to speak. Usually in life these are the ultimate connections that are made. The ones where people learn from one another because they are from different generations and see the world differently. Eastwood does have romance in some of his films, but they are usually a minor subplot. He tends to stay away from the conventional romantic connection.

If I ever get the chance to talk with Clint one on one, the first thing I want to ask him is where he finds his scripts. If you take a look at his body of work, you will see that all of the films he's directed have a sole writer credited for the screenplay credit. In today's world where films are expensive, Hollywood producers like to have at least 3 writers take a stab at a screenplay. And that's not counting all of the non-credited writers who ghost write certain scenes.

But Eastwood seems to find his scripts in the bottom drawers of the mid-level screenwriters working in Hollywood. He reads a script and says, "Looks good, let's go out and shoot it!"

That is a complete 180 from how most Hollywood films are made. And good for him for doing it. An original screenplay, if done well, has the initial themes intact that a director can tackle. When you hire another writer for a rewrite, they tend to push their own agendas into the script. So the original writer's intent isn't there anymore.

The legend of Clint Eastwood is how he's collaborated with his crew. They all stay with him for years to come as they all seem to upgrade their roles as time progresses. Take a look at Eastwood's Director of Photography Tom Stern. He started out as an electrician on Eastwood's film, then moved up to the Gaffer position (main lighting technician) and now he's running the show as his DP. There are countless examples of that. This is the way it's suppose to be and producers and directors (especially in Canada) out there need to learn from Clint.

This is the only way the film industry evolves. Eastwood has worked with the same men and woman for years, so it's all shorthand for them. They all know each other really well and they all know what their jobs are to make the best film. Look at the progression of his films. He started off making not so great movies and now he's averaging a great film a year. And how old is he? Doesn't matter because I don't think he's ready to retire anytime soon. So go watch Gran Torino and learn from the master. I forgot to mention, Clint also stars in this film and is in every single scene. And his performance is top notch. Perhaps the best role he's ever performed. So not only is he a great director, but he's also a great actor. And he's how old? 78 if anyone's counting.

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