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MOVIE REVIEW: Gran Torino

clint_eastwood_jr

Clint Eastwood plays widower and Korean war

veteran Walt Kowalski, a grim soul and general curmudgeon whom even his family

can’t stand.  He’s also a bigot who

seemingly hates everything about the modern world.  He lives in a neighborhood that is populated

by several Hmong families. 

 

 

When a Hmong teenager named Tao (Bee Vang) tries to steal Walt’s prized

1972 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation, it unleashes a long gestating

fury within Walt.  In accordance with

Hmong tradition, Tao’s mother orders him to work for Walt as penance for his

sins.  This indentured servitude leads to

redemption for Walt.  Walt teaches the

young boy everything he needs to know in order to become a man.  Along the way, he grows quite fond of the boy

and his family, despite his own racism and inner-demons.

 

 

If all of this sounds rather sappy and

predictable, that’s because it is.  That

the material works to the extent that it does is due in large part to Eastwood

himself.  As a director, Eastwood has

always been at his best when he tells small stories that deal with big themes.  He is as restrained as he’s ever been

here.  He simply sits back and lets the

story tell itself, which is usually the best approach for material like

this.  Eastwood and his screenwriter, Nick

Schenk, take a straight-forward,

unpretentious approach.  They manage to

keep the melodrama and “big moments” to a minimum (at least until the third

act). 

 

 

While the film doesn’t quite fall apart in

the third act, it definitely takes a downturn in quality.  Walt’s play

to keep the gangs away from Tao and his family lead to tragic (and expected)

results.  Walt rectifies the situation

the only way he knows how.  This is meant

to reinforce a running theme in the film: an old man stuck not only in another

time and place, but in his own ways. 

While the ending makes logical sense, one wishes that the Eastwood and

Schenk could have found a less predictable resolution.

 

Eastwood is simply gold as Walt Kowalski.  It’s his most entertaining performance since

“Gunny” way in Heartbreak Ridge.  Walt is

funny yet tragic, and often comes off as an extremist parody of the classic

Eastwood persona.  We get the usual

Eastwood “tough-guy” moments, but with an odd twist.  This guy is what one of Clint’s classic movie

characters would be like if they existed in real life.  Think about it: Would a guy like “Dirty”

Harry Callahan be so cool and entertaining to you if you actually had to live

next door to him?

 

The characters in the Tao’s family range

from serviceable to wooden.  The only one

that stands out is Ahney Herr as Sue, Tao’s older sister.  Sue’s relationship with Walt proves to be, in

some ways, more interesting than his relationship with Tao.  The Hmong Gang characters play like stock

stereotypes from any numbers of 90′s ‘Hood’ flicks.  They seem to exist simply to provide the film

with villains and adversity, but Walt’s inner demons and outward unpleasantness

provide the film with all the conflict it needs.  Audiences love melodrama, and Clint Eastwood does that type of material well.  Here, it seems a bit unnecessary and forced.

 

Gran

Torino isn’t

truly a great film, but it’s a satisfying one. 

Its  attempt to touch the soul

isn’t completely successful, but it’s such an admirable effort that we are

willing to give Eastwood the benefit of the doubt.  Even though he doesn’t quite get there, we

see what he was reaching for.

 

Torino is certainly his

most engaging and entertaining.  It’s a

small and sometimes sappy story, but it manages to be touching and affecting

despite underdeveloped villains and a predictable third act.

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