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
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.
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.