The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: Gran Torino
As a 57-year-old man who spends most of his weekends sitting on his porch with a rifle laid across his lap throwing stones at passersby as practice for later so that in my actual retirement it will look like I know what I’m doing (being mean and old), there’s obviously a lot about Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino that appeals to me. He dislikes his neighbors? Of course he does! He is constantly grumpy? Who isn’t?! He’s a vocal and unrepentant racist? Uhhh. Whatever it takes! (To be old?) But could it be that Gran Torino is the Worst Movie of All Time? ONLY TIME AND WHATEVER IS AFTER THE JUMP WILL TELL!
Gran Torino is about a racist old man named Clint Eastwood whose wife has just died, leaving him alone in their well-kept house on an otherwise ruined and collapsing block in Highland Park, Michigan. He is so grumpy and racist, it is incredible. His only is friend is his dog, and Mr. Pabst Blue Ribbon. And his horrific war memories from Korea. One night, he finds the Asian (gross!) neighbor boy trying to steal his prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport. Oh, you can imagine how mad THAT makes him. Meanwhile, the robbery was a failed gang initiation on the part of the neighbor boy, Thao. The gang, led by Thao’s cousin, is unhappy that he failed and also unhappy that he isn’t more excited to join their shitty, scary gang, so they go to his house and try to abduct him. Unfortunately for them, the abduction spills over onto Clint Eastwood’s yard. He doesn’t mind violent Hmong gangs abducting and abusing their own as long as they keep the noise level down and they GET OFF HIS LAWN. He points the gun at everyone, he doesn’t care. Everyone get off his lawn! But now the Hmong cherish him as a hero for driving off the gang (which, to be fair, is a little small? No offense to that gang, but if there are only five people in your gang, it’s more of an extra-curricular club than a family-replacing criminal organization. Probably that is why they are so mad at Thao!) Begrudgingly, Clint Eastwood agrees to let Thao come work for him doing manual labor to make up for trying to steal his car, and I know you will never believe that a movie would do this, but, they slowly become friends! Oh, Clint Eastwood remains super-racist, but he begins to develop less-grumpy human emotions for these unwashed savages. “They’re not all bad,” he probably tells his friends. Anyway, Clint Eastwood, who just got diagnosed with tuberculosis or something by the way, teaches Thao how to be racist and he gets him a job in construction, and he loves eating dumplings now. But then one day the gang finds Thao and they break all his new construction work equipment that Clint Eastwood bought for him. And they put a cigarette out on his face! Yikes. So Clint Eastwood goes to the gang’s house (you know how gangs are, always living altogether in a house…that is easy for old men to find) and beats one of them up as a warning. But in typical gang fashion, they retaliate! Oh, gangs. They shoot uzis (UZIS!) at Thao’s family’s house, and they abduct his sister and rape and beat her. Oh jeez. Well, Clint may be racist and super grumpy, but he is a racist super-grumpy man who means business. Thao is eager for revenge, but Clint is determined to plan things out so that there are no mistakes. He gets a haircut. He gets fitted for a new suit. He goes to church and confesses for the first time in many many years. He locks Thao in the basement. Now he is ready! I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen it, but let’s just say that Clint Eastwood gets shot by the gang members in a moment of heroic self-sacrifice in front of eye witnesses so now all the gang members have to go to jail. Relax, I didn’t spoil it. I didn’t tell you to whom he leaves the 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport in his will!
I recognize that this is a controversial entry in The Hunt, and as such it bears repeating that any movie can be nominated. It doesn’t automatically become a bad movie just because it comes under consideration. Gran Torino is a perfect example of that: flawed movie? Yes! Worst Movie of All Time? No! I no longer remember who nominated it, but the Gran Torino Heads can rest assured that they were mistaken.
That being said, I did think that the Hmong actors, namely Bee Vang and Ahney Her, were not very good at their jobs. If their jobs were acting. If their jobs were to serviceably represent a minority against which Clint Eastwood could thrust his slightly toothless racism, then they were perfectly good at their jobs, and they should get a promotion. To not having to do that anymore. Because that’s awful. And it is surprising and odd that Clint Eastwood chose Hmong gang warfare instead of, oh, I don’t know, black or hispanic gang warfare? Those seem like much more endemic problems in economically depressed areas (as if there is any other kind of area these days, am I right?). Perhaps it was purposefully to take away what would have been the movie’s incendiary political message and to focus on Clint Eastwood’s grunts (seriously, this could have been called Grunt Torino) and the budding friendship between two opposites (one horrible racist, one victim of the horrible racist’s horrible racism, like a chessboard!).
And to be fair to whomever nominated Gran Torino, the genre of such-and-such-unusual-character (retard, alien, Hmong) teaches a jaded old (white) cynic the wonders of life again is definitely in the Top 3 Worst Genres. It’s so predictable. And so unrealistic. And such a cheap way to build meaningful character arcs. Not to mention emotionally manipulative.
But this was not a bad movie. Clint Eastwood is a really good actor. He is very compelling to watch, so it’s weird that this is the first movie he’s ever been in. And sure, one might suggest that there are some questions raised about the colonial implications of a white man having to come to the rescue of the minorities, who can’t seem to help themselves.
But that’s for boring old professors up in their library towers. It was enjoyable to watch. What do you want from me? An end to hundreds of years of institutional racism and an effective refutation of the culturally absorbed assumption that the white man is the seat of all that is good and powerful in this world? No. Not today. Get off my blog.
Next week: Georgia Rule. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.