‘Gran Torino’ is hugely dramatic but largely predictable (IANS Film Review, Rating: ***)

March 14th, 2009 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Gran Torino”; Cast: Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her, Bee Vang; Director: Clint Eastwood; Rating: ***

At 78 Clint Eastwood continues to conceive ingeniously appropriate vehicles for himself. In “Gran Torino”, he plays a cliche, upturned, rejuvenated and restored to a position of glory by some expert writing.

Eastwood is cast as a newly-bereaved cantankerous sullen and hostile widower whose life changes when his bigoted sense of Americanism is challenged by a large Hmong family of noisy custom-ridden people who seem to celebrate, eat and fight all day long.

They are your classic Asian chasers of the American dream. Substitute the Hmong family with a brood of Indians in the same beautifully-shot American suburbia, and the picture remains unchanged.

This is the insider’s feel good film. The American dream-maker’s ultimate socio-cultural orgasm.

Make the hero an intolerant racist patriarch who gradually comes around. And, voila, the American dream lives and thrives!

The simple manipulative formula is redeemed to a large extent by outstanding characterisations. No effort is made to burden the patriotic premise of America’s mythic appetite for cultural assimilation with any serious commentary on the power equations that drive third-world people to prosperous countries for better opportunities.

The mistake that “Gran Torino” makes is to show the migrant family as one big mass of noisy amiability, eating, talking and assimilating fast. In comparison the American world is shown to be getting meaner, more uncaring and ill-mannered by the day.

The film works because of the basic rapport between the Eastwood character and the Asian girl next door (Ahney Her) and specially the way the bigoted protagonist takes charge of the young migrant boy Thao (Bee Vang) and eventually sacrifices his life to save the boy from crime.

Hugely dramatic and largely predictable “Gran Torino” has a kernel of truth protecting its pedestrian plot and prodding it into a creative awakening that just stops short of being rejuvenating.

As a portrait of disintegrating family values and the urgent need for cultural flexibility “Gran Torino” possesses a basic integrity of purpose that never quite explodes into a statement on the human condition. As one more made-to-order vehicle for Clint Eastwood’s vast abilities as an actor and filmmaker this film lays out an impressive blueprint of basic values that most of our society and by extension cinema have forfeited.

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