Thanks for checking out our Gran Torino review.
If the planet earth had to anoint one grand imperial “Alpha Male”, it wouldn’t be Chuck Norris, it wouldn’t be Mr. T, it wouldn’t be Bruce Campbell and it wouldn’t even be Batman. It would be Clint Eastwood. And let me tell you something, that old silverback will rip the throat out of any pretender who tries to challenge him for that place in the pack and then wipe is ass with it.
I still remember how much joy I felt when I first saw the poster for Gran Torino. A gruff and pissed off looking Clint Eastwood with a shotgun in his steel hands standing in front of his Gran Torino. I didn’t know a single detail about this movie… but I was already 100% sold. Some critics have already given their reviews of this film. Some saying it’s pure creative genius, some saying it’s one of the worst films of the year. In my opinion, the truth of Gran Torino lay somewhere in between.
THE GENERAL IDEA
The synopsis for Gran Torino reads something like this: “A racist Korean War veteran living in a crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood is forced to confront his own lingering prejudice when a troubled Hmong teen from his neighborhood attempts to steal his prized Gran Torino. Decades after the Korean War has ended, ageing veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is still haunted by the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield. The two objects that matter most to Kowalski in life are the classic Gran Torino that represents his happier days working in a Ford assembly plant, and the M-1 rifle that saved his life countless times during combat. When Kowalski’s teenage neighbor (Bee Vang) attempts to steal his Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation rite, the old man manages to catch the aspiring thief at the business end of his well-maintained semi-automatic rifle. Later, due to the pride of the Asian group, the boy is forced to return to Kowalski’s house and perform an act of penance. Despite the fact that Kowalski wants nothing to do with the young troublemaker, he realizes that the quickest way out of the situation is to simply cooperate. In an effort to set the teen on the right path in life and toughen him up, the reluctant vet sets him up with an old crony who now works in construction. In the process, Kowalski discovers that the only way to lay his many painful memories to rest is to finally face his own blinding prejudice head-on.”
Look, I don’t want to sound like some Hollywood ass kisser who is obligated to proclaim anything Clint Eastwood does is “genius” or “brilliant” or “inspired”. But no one character (Walt, played by Eastwood) in the movies this year has been close to this one. Walt is a man you can’t help but love from the moment he comes on screen. The first shot we see of him is at his Wife’s funeral… and instead of looking sad he’s looking at his granddaughter wearing a bellybutton ring and he growls like the disapproving, hard ass, old school tough as nails alpha male he is. That one growl, that one visceral sound he grunted out immediately made you feel like you knew this character. You didn’t just know him, as an audience member you LOVED him (cause you don’t have to live with him, you can just watch him from a distance… kinda like your friend’s stupid baby). Walt is a man with many imperfections… racism being one of them… but deep down he’s a good man who just can’t understand how or way the world has become such a stupid and weak place (in his eyes). Without the slightest bit of exaggeration that every moment Walt was on screen were some of the most engaging and entertaining moments I’ve spent with any film this year. I LOVE this character and I love the way Eastwood portrayed him (really… it kind of is him I guess). Easily my favorite character of any film in 2008 hands down.
Walt has a strained relationship with his sons, but ultimately finds community in his neighborhood amongst the “gooks” (that’s the term Eastwood uses throughout the movie) he’s wanted to keep at arms distance most of his life. I really liked this expression of community the film portrays, even aside from the gang problem in the film. It reminded me of growing up in Hamilton Ontario where we knew all our neighbors, socialized with them, played street hockey with them, had BBQs with them. It was nice seeing that sense of a community coming together.
Sadly, really have nothing else to say in the “good” section.
All the performances, and I mean every single one of the in this film aside from Eastwood were TERRIBLE. I’ve been told that Eastwood worked with a cast of all first time actors. That isn’t really accurate, but it certainly felt like he did. The asian girl next door who helps to bring Walt out of his shell, Sue, was the worst. It felt like she was acting in a High School play. I feel bad for her because the character could have been something pretty special, but it came off with no heart, no soul, no depth. You can tell she tried, but it just didn’t work. But it wasn’t just her. It was everyone. It was all of them. It was the whole cast. Terrible. The best actors in the film were the grumpy old asian women who never spoke english in the film, and yet managed to have huge charm. Don’t even get me started about the guy playing the asian gang members or the guys playing Walt’s adult sons. Yikes.
I appreciate the fact that in Gran Tarino Eastwood was trying to make observations about racism and provide some moral lessons on the topic… but everything was so damn stereotypical that it left me with the impression that Eastwood really don’t know much about the topic or the themes and let Gran Torino come off enforcing negative or ridiculous stereotypes more than anything else. And the cliches and stereotypes didn’t just end with the racism issues… even Walt’s family were totally 1 dimensional and completely built on cliches. The family only wanted to talk to him when they wanted his car, his couch, his house, wanting to move Walt into a seniors home. It was all just so one directional that the family played out more like cartoon caricatures than characters.
I swear, if Gran Torino was just 90 minutes of Walt sitting around alone talking to his dog about how much the world sucks and things were different when he was younger, I would have loved every second. Everything else in this movie were nothing but frills as Eastwood, as Walt, drove it. An interesting story idea that got too bogged down in 1 dimensional characters, misused stereotypes and terrible performances to be considered anything more that average. I would still recommend seeing Gran Torino just for Walt, because he’s on screen the majority of the time and is my favorite character of the year. Overall I give Gran Torino a 7 out of 10.