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Walt Kowalski is a widower who holds onto his prejudices despite the changes in his Michigan neighborhood and the world around him. Kowalski is a grumpy, tough-minded, unhappy old man who can't get along with either his kids or his neighbors. He is a Korean War veteran whose prize possession is a 1972 Gran Torino he keeps in mint condition. When his neighbor Thao Lor, a young Hmong teenager under pressure from his gang member cousin, tries to steal his Gran Torino, Kowalski sets out to reform the youth. Drawn against his will into the life of Thao's family, Kowalski is soon taking steps to protect them from the gangs that infest their neighborhood.
In the past six years Clint Eastwood has distinguished himself as one of the finest directors working today and one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. He seems to be in his prime at such a late stage in life and he keeps churning out hit after hit after hit. I mean, just look at this track record since 2003: "Mystic River", "Million Dollar Baby", "Flags of Our Fathers", "Letters from Iwo Jima", "Changeling" - and now his latest motion picture, "Gran Torino". Eastwood hasn't starred in a film he's directed since the underrated 2002 thriller "Blood Work". He has stated this will be his final screen performance. The film has been receiving mixed reviews, with some people calling it one of the best films of the year and others calling it a colossal disappointment. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. "Gran Torino" is not Eastwood's best directorial achievement of late, that's for sure - but what the film manages to do is paint a portrait of a real character - a man who finds redemption in the most unlikeliest of places. With this performance, Eastwood demonstrates just how powerful he can be on screen and just how he can dominate a scene with a grunt or the raise of an eyebrow. Eastwood should very much receive an Academy Award nomination for this role, though the film is weak in a few areas. "Gran Torino" is a film I liked more than I think I should have.
We meet Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) after the death of his wife. We immediately see that Walt is a rather unhappy man - old, bitter and more than a little racist. His local priest (Christopher Carley) drops by from time to time to try and get him to go to confessional, though Walk outright refuses. Walt lives in a slum neighborhood and is surrounded by Hmong immigrants, a fact that he loathes on a daily basis. After the boy who lives next door, Thao (Bee Vang) attempts to steal Walt's 1972 Gran Torino, the story really kicks into action. Walt winds up saving Thao from a local gang and becomes the hero of the neighborhood, eventually striking up a friendship with Thao and his sister Sue. Walt doesn't seem to like anyone, but somehow becomes endeared to the family next door, protecting them as best he can and connecting with a different generation and a different culture. When the conflict between Walt's neighbors and the gang starts getting more intense, Walt must take a stand and do what he does best - defend others. The ending of the film comes at us in classic Eastwood style, though not in the way we really expect. "Gran Torino" is all about Walt Kowalski and his change of heart. It's one of Eastwood's richest and fullest performances to date and a real delight.
What drives this film is Eastwood. No other actor could create this character and no other actor could pull it off. He gruffs and grumbles his way into our hearts, even though he never lets up his racist mentality. Walt doesn't like people and he doesn't like that he is losing his street to Asians and Hispanics and African-Americans. We get the sense the only thing keeping him from a rampage was his wife. We see the relationship between he and his grown kids, who don't understand him and only seem to call when they want something from him. His grandkids can't relate to him at all. Watching his relationship develop with Thao and Sue is quite enjoyable, as he becomes a surrogate father to Thao and a friend to Sue, with their welcoming him into their lives and he doing the same. I just can't stress enough how fine Eastwood's performance is here. He works well with everyone in the film and manages to make us love a very crude character. I can't think of a film that treats racism so flippantly as this one, yet making us endear to the individual at the helm of that particular ship. That is a credit to Eastwood's direction and performance. A particularly enjoyable scene comes when Walt and his friend, played by John Carroll Lynch, attempt to show Thao how to talk and act like a man. It's one of the best scenes in the film and it also showcases Eastwood's knack for comedy.
The film slips up in the supporting performances. Eastwood has a tendency to cast unknown actors in all of his films, but he did it a little too much here. Bee Vang and Ahney Her, the two Asian kids Walt befriends, are just not strong actors and they can't handle the emotional levels required for their roles, especially Vang. Eastwood and Vang have several scenes together where Vang's inexperience really shows. I also had a real problem with the performance from Christopher Carley as the determined priest. I didn't buy him for a second and it seemed like a second rate performance. Other than Eastwood, the best performance came from John Carroll Lynch as Walt's barber and he is only in three scenes in the entire film. If the supporting performances had been as strong as Eastwood's, this could have easily been the best film of the year. That said, I also think Eastwood directs better when he's not in front of the camera. I would like to see this film starring Eastwood but directed by someone else. "Blood Work" is another example of a film Eastwood directed and starred in that could have been so much better than it was. I think Eastwood does both well, but not necessarily together. He could do it when he was younger, but if age has done anything, it's limited that skill.
Even with all the problems I had with the film - even with all the flaws and all of the amateur performances, "Gran Torino" is one of my favorite films of the year. Clint Eastwood alone makes this an amazing motion picture. It is one of the best performances of the year and one of the best of his career and if it's true that this is his final screen performance, he certainly decided to go out with a bang. "Gran Torino" isn't going to receive the awards consideration as Eastwood's more recent films but it will definitely be a fine addition to an ever expanding resume. And if you listen real close you can hear Eastwood singing in a song that plays over the end credits. It was a nice treat and it sounded as if the song was entitled "Gran Torino". Kudos to Eastwood for such a stellar performance and kudos to him for getting better and better and going out on top. My recommendations are Clint Eastwood for Best Actor only, but that performance is enough to put this on my top ten list and make it a must-see for everyone out there.
grain of sand
- added January 2, 2009 at 6:11pm
I was somewhat taken back on how god damn racist
ol' clint is in this, but it makes sense..
The supporting cast was pretty fucking awful,
but watching Eastwood as a complete badass again
was a treat.
Me and my pops loved it.
9/10 seems right
- added January 3, 2009 at 12:10pm
I really enjoyed this movie. 9/10
Blood Work was underrated. So correct in that.
- added January 4, 2009 at 12:20am
Definitely a great flick. Loved it.
- added January 4, 2009 at 11:24pm
It was a good movie, but the racism was so
frequent and over the top it felt a little silly.
Several of the scenes felt like they were just
playing up Eastwood being a crotchedy old timer.
It works, but when he whips out 4 or 5 slurs in
one sentence, I start to find it a little tedious.
That, and the horrific acting job by the kids are
the only things keeping this from getting a
perfect rating. It's too bad ol' Clint's final
film had to be just short of perfect.
- added January 4, 2009 at 11:29pm
I'll give you the horrible acting by the kids, but
I've seen many an old man who whip out the racial
slurs just as frequently in real life, so that
didn'tn't bother me in the least.
- added February 5, 2009 at 4:24am
I thought the kids did an okay job, considering
it's their first time. For me, it made the
characters more believable. I honestly don't think
a seasoned actor would have made the supporting
characters any better. Then again, I came into
this movie expecting nothing, thanks to a few
- added June 17, 2009 at 1:43am
I thoroughly enjoyed this. I had no problem with
the kids performances. I especially liked the one