Movie Review: Gran Torino

Details: Released in 2008. Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson. Stars Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Christopher Carley. About two hours long.

I think what impressed me most about this movie was the sheer number of racial slurs and prejudiced insults that were used in it. A lot of these insults I had never heard before. I mean it’s mostly Asian slurs, with a little black, Jewish, Italian, and Irish thrown in. There was also a line or two insulting gays. If you don’t like racial slurs, especially if they’re said about your type of people, then you might want to avoid this movie.

However, I think you can still enjoy this movie even if you belong to one of the groups insulted by it. I did some internet research after watching the film because I wanted to know just how accurate the portrayal of the Hmong people were. Turns out, not very. The screenplay was written by a white guy sitting in a bar at night when he wasn’t working his day job. As per a number of articles, a lot of things were exaggerated and overdramatized to help convey the culture clash upon which the crux of the story relies upon. One example is that the names of the Hmong characters were all originally Chinese and had to be changed by the Hmong actors themselves to reflect their ethnicity. The insults… are gratuitous. It’s very possible the people behind this film wanted to deliver some choice words about minorities while hiding under creative license. My point is this: this film is fiction. It’s not even based on a true story. This film should not be used as a good example of how to treat people, even if you think you have a heart of gold. If you find everything said in this film completely okay… then you’re probably delusional, self-absorbed, a racist, or just trash. Regardless, if you can accept the fact that this film is not real nor does it accurately reflect on reality, then watching the film may be enjoyable to you even if it insults you.

Anyways, the film is about an old war veteran whose wife just passed away. Finding himself alone, he now tries to reconcile his own culture with that of his neighbors as much of the neighborhood has become Hmong (an ethnicity from east and south Asia). Specifically, he tries to help out a teenage boy living next door who is involved with the local gangs.

There are a number of things working in the film. As said above, there is that cultural clash that tries to introduce a foreign culture and show that it’s okay even if it is different. If you can ignore the reality that the Hmong were actually inaccurately portrayed in the film for dramatic purposes, then it’s a good, morally satisfying theme. I will concede that it is a vital point in this film that the culture of the neighbors be foreign and strange and that they be some kind of Asian because Eastwood’s character fought in the Korean War so that Eastwood’s character can get over whatever trauma was caused by the war.

The primary relationship in this film concerns Eastwood’s character trying to mentor this Hmong teenager. He teaches him some skills, shoots the breeze, and tries to get him a girlfriend. It’s your classic sensei-student relationship except that it’s told mostly from the mentor’s perspective, not the student.

There’s definitely a feeling of realism in the film, like they stripped away any acting tips to over-emote, except for Eastwood’s character and the priest. I read somewhere that most of the Asian actors were first timers and were hurried along through their scenes. I don’t know if that was to make them seem more natural or more foreign, but it works.

Overall, a pretty good film that’s kind of excessive with the insults. I get that Eastwood’s this grizzled, old veteran which is why he says all he says, but this kind of character’s been done before with a lot less racism. Instead of just telling a good story, it felt like those behind the film (or at least the writers) simply got their jollies by writing in as many racist insults as they could even though it was mostly unnecessary to the story. At least it had an okay theme of tolerance… even if that idea was lubricated with more Asian slurs than I knew existed.

Score: 6/10

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