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gran torino

Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brian Haley, Dreama Walker, Brian Howe, John Carroll Lynch

Tony DeFrancisco

December 16, 2008


Clint Eastwood probably hasn’t slept all year. This year alone, he has directed two films that are big award contenders. The first one, “Changeling,” I missed. I regret it, but sometimes Kevin Smith just means a little bit more. But his second film was one that I didn’t want to miss. His second film of the year, “Gran Torino,” was originally thought to be a fifth “Dirty Harry” sequel, but it is almost the complete opposite. For more than half of the movie, Clint Eastwood plays a grumpy and racist old man. I guess he didn’t get too much sleep.

Walt Kowalski’s (Clint Eastwood) wife just died, and his two sons (Brian Haley and Brian Howe) don’t know what to do with him. Walt, a Korean War veteran, is possibly the most racist man to ever walk the earth, but ironically lives on the only street where there is a different ethnicity in every household. A new Asian family moves in next-door to him on the day of his wife’s funeral, and this gets Walt’s panties in a bunch. But what gets his panties in a bunch even more is when he catches Thao, (Bee Vang) the kid that moved in, stealing his most prized possession – his ’72 Gran Torino.

I don’t want to go too much farther into plot, but all I can tell you is that you should expect a Chinese gang that packs more heat than the Iraqi Navy, Walt and his barber (John Carroll Lynch) going at it and call each other Jewish f*@%s in a barber shop, a healthy relationship between Thao’s sister Sue (Ahney Her) and Walt, an unhealthy relationship between Walt and his two boys, and a lot of coughing up blood.

“Gran Torino” isn’t a terrible movie, but it doesn’t live up to any of its award hype. The first half of “Gran Torino” is excellent, but the second half just doesn’t seem to live up to any of its promise. In the first half we are introduced to characters that had a lot of great potential to have a lot more great development. In the second half, the only three characters that were being developed were Walt, Thao, and Sue. For everyone else, they are shrugged off.

The script for “Gran Torino” probably had me laughing more than most of the comedies released this year. Screenwriter Nick Schenk (in his first feature-length film) fires off a lot of great comedic moments in this heavy drama. Even in its some most serious scenes, like the beginning scene at the funeral, are funny enough to get a nice gut-busting laugh. In one of the scenes of the movie, Eastwood and Lynch are trying to teach Thao how to speak like a man to get ready for his new job. Seeing them going at it is one of the funniest scenes that I’ve seen all year.

Once the movie goes for a turn in the last half-hour, that is when the film starts to lose steam. A certain twist happens and everything changes. A priest played by Christopher Carley is given a larger role, but there still isn’t a lot going on with his character. But I think, had there would have been more development to his character, he might have been the highlight of the film. He could have stolen the show from Eastwood in the final half-hour.

Which leads me to Eastwood’s performance. Nothing wrong about it at all, but for a man who has been acting since the 50s, I’d expect a better performance. Quite frankly, I think Eastwood is better at directing than acting. He’s starred in some landmark films as some landmark characters, but I feel that his vision while directing his pictures is much better. He can go from a film about a butch boxer (“Million Dollar Baby”) to two films about WWII (“Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”) without skipping a beat. I would rather watch a film with Eastwood behind the camera instead of him in front.

There are a few more highlights here and there. Most of the Asian cast was unknowns, so while their acting is just a little bit off, they’re pretty impressive. One actor (and I would include his name had I was able to find it and confirm it), who plays the gang leader, gives a performance that is definitely worth mentioning. He’s not brutal, but like Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” he gives a performance that is sure to intimidate you. Whenever he wants to use violence, he gets his goons to do all of his hard work.

There is a scene near the end of the first half-hour mark where a bunch of people are fighting on Walt’s lawn. He grabs a shotgun before coming outside and says to them, “Get off my lawn.” It is almost heartbreaking that the last great movie star is going that route.


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