Gran Torino Movie Review
Clint Eastwood seems to like to do his movies in batches, and ever since 2003's Mystic River he hasn't done a single film that could be ignored as an awards contender. Unfortunately, Changeling, which was just released a few months prior and expected to be a possible Oscar favorite, lacked the power many were expecting, which leaves the venerable director's December release, Gran Torino, to pull off an upset.
Unfortunately, Gran Torino is not an Oscar film. At least I don't think so. It has far more laughs than serious parts, even though, in the end, it is a serious movie. Nevertheless, it is one of the best movies of the year and one of the most entertaining pictures I have seen in a long time.
Gran Torino stars Eastwood as a bitter old man named Walt Kowalski who seems to hate everything and everyone. He hates his grown children for trying to talk him into a retirement community, and he hates his grandchildren for having more interest in their iPods than in his wife's funeral. He hates his neighbors, most of whom are Hmong immigrants, for the simple fact that they are different than him, and that he fought against "chinks" in the Korean War. He wears his disgust for all these things on his face, and often growls his displeasure.
However, as his relationship with his own family fades, he finds a new place in life when he "saves" a shy neighbor kid named Thao (Bee Vang) from a local gang, and again when he helps protect Thao's much-less-shy sister Sue (Ahney Her) from a couple of aggressive guys. Sue immediately sees through Walt's racist remarks and befriends him, and in turn gets Walt to befriend Thao. This may come in handy when that gang comes around again.
Gran Torino is a drama, but it is the funniest drama I've ever seen. Eastwood is absolutely perfect as Walt, and there's rarely a line he spits out that doesn't have some kind of racial epitaph. In fact, there probably isn't a single Asian slur that isn't used in the movie, but Asians aren't the only victims; stupid people, his family and a variety of others all get panned left and right. Eastwood delivers every one of these lines with a grisly growl, and will have you rolling in your seat. The thing is, no matter how many bad things he says, he's never actually offensive, and he develops a truly likable character from the first second he's shown on screen. Other critics have said this and I'll agree: this is what Dirty Harry would be like in retirement.
The movie is one where it's funny 80% of the time and serious for the last little bit, and often a switch like this can throw audiences for a loop. However, Eastwood the director handles this brilliantly; he sets the stage early that, in fact, Gran Torino is indeed a drama and will most likely end in bloodshed, and as many laughs as there are, there is something deeper to the story that is always developing and evolving.
There isn't anything I would change about Gran Torino, even the younger actors who could only be described as decent. Neither Bee Vang or Ahney Her have the chops to star in an Eastwood Oscar-winner, but they work here for whatever reason - maybe because Gran Torino has no chance of winning a Best Picture Oscar. It is an excellent movie, but it isn't an awards movie.
Gran Torino is a rare breed of film that is entertaining, dramatic and funny all at once, but it is nothing like the dramedies like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine that have received Oscar nods in the past. Eastwood deserves a nomination for his performance, and the movie deserves a spot in the top five of the year, but it won't have a chance to win Best Picture. Highly recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.