(8) GRAN TORINO with Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carly, Bee Vang, Ahney Her and Brian Haley. Directed by Eastwood. (The Bridge, Walmer Park, Garden Route Mall).

CLINT Eastwood's amazing acting ability shines through once again in this film, creating a character who at first is completely reprehensible, but by the end of the film you can't help but stick up for.

Eastwood, who also directs, plays Walt Kowalski, a typical "grumpy old man?who seems angry at the whole world.

He is a complete racist and has a particular problem with people of Asian descent ?dating back to his own experiences in the Korean War in the 1950s.

But that doesn't mean he won't also lash out with racial insults at black, Mexican, Irish or Italian members of the community, and is even horrible to members of his family ... at his own wife's funeral. He is particularly disgusted when a Hmong family (people of Vietnamese descent) move in next door the day of the funeral, and when the youngest member of that family, Thao (Bee Vang), tries to steal his prized possession ?a 1972 Gran Torino car in mint condition.

But through a surprising turn of events, Walt ends up saving Thao from a gang that has been terrorising the neighbourhood.

Although neither Walt nor the boy are that keen on the idea, Thao's family insists that the teenager repay his "debt?to the old man by doing odd jobs for him.

And during this interaction, the bond between them grows ?even if Walt insists on calling the boy Toad instead of Thao and often uses racial insults against him.

At the same time Walt also becomes protective of Thao's sister, Sue (Ahney Her), who is also victimised not only by the Hmong gang but also by a group of black youths.

Eastwood at times seems to be in Dirty Harry mode, but throughout the film this is usually through the threat of violence rather than actually getting physically involved with the younger characters.

This actually works very well, as in many scenes the tension builds as you wonder who will throw the first punch or fire the first bullet.

As the violent behaviour of the gangs causes more damage to the neighbourhood he loves, Walt eventually vows to take action.

I won't give away anything of the ending, other than to say that there is a brilliant twist, which you probably won't see coming.

Aside from his interaction with the community, the other interesting interpersonal drama comes from Walt's relationships with his family, particularly his son and teenage granddaughter.

He also regularly clashes with his priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), who had made a promise to Walt's dying wife that he would get the old man to confess the sins of his past ?something the jaded war veteran has no intention of doing.

Eastwood's fans will love this film, because it manages to create a good balance between action scenes and human drama, and shows that at the age of 78, he's still got what it takes to be a leading actor and a top notch director. ?Reviewed by Leon Muston ARTS EDITOR


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