When I think of a grumpy old man, I think of none other than Walter Mathau. But after watching Clint Eastwood’s latest movie Gran Torino, I realize the scale that had Mathau on the top requires some adjustment. Eastwood takes the stodgy, miserable, old prick to new heights.
At year 78, he’s brought his Dirty Harry persona to the old age home with the character of Walt Kowalski, a grizzled widower, a racist and a veteran of the Korean War. He lives in a Detroit neighborhood that has seen better times; it is now rundown and overrun with gangs and, in Walt’s own words, “gooks” and “slopes”. But he soon finds himself involved with his “yellow” neighbors when he catches the boy Thao Lor (Bee Vang) trying to steal his prized Gran Torino during a gang initiation and when he saves the girl Sue Lor (Ahney Her) from a possible rape by some idling black kids on a street corner.
The Lors, as does the viewer as the movie progresses, see a redeeming quality in Walt (that his own children don’t see) and continually attempt to get through to him as thanks for all he has inadvertently done for their family. He’s not a bad man at heart, he’s just perpetually stuck in the 1950’s. This leads to some more than awkward, and unintentionally funny moments, including an extended family dinner at the Lor’s, at which Walt does and says everything insulting imaginable. The fascinating point to it all, is he thinks he is behaving quite normally and not for a second thinking that perhaps he is out of order.
It’s this melding of two vastly different cultures and mindsets that is at the crux of Gran Torino. Bit by bit Walt relearns what he’s been missing from his own family life as he lets Thao and Sue in behind his tough, grim exterior. In return, he takes the bashful Thao under his wings in an effort to make a man out of him. It’s a very enlightening tale, with some very bittersweet scenes shared between the three, all of which is held together by the strength of Eastwood’s presence. But that doesn’t mean the film is without flaws — some very serious flaws.
One that I couldn’t get over, as it pulled down the entire movie, was the weak performance by Bee Vang in his first major film role (actually his first role ever). There are many moments where powerful emotions are brought up and it was clear he didn’t have an inner well of inspiration to draw from. I imagine Eastwood (who also produced and directed) throwing his hands up in futility as he tried to get something out of Bee during one of the more pivotal climatic scenes, until finally just settling on the best of the worst takes. It’s a shame too, because the character of Thao had a lot to offer. I also wasn’t overly pleased with the ending. It was very cookie cutter and it did not belong tacked onto the ass end of this particular movie.
It’s been rumored that Gran Torino is going to be the last film Clint Eastwood will star in. For all of us, I hope that there isn’t an ounce of truth to that. He’s still got the chops to carry a film (as his performance here shows) and to not hear his ever gruffier voice would be a great loss. Plus, I’d love to see him go out on a much stronger note than this — one with an ensemble cast worthy of being in the last film of a legend.
December 23, 2008 @ 1:49 am David
I too thought at first that the ending would be ala Dirty Harry, but the end result stuck with me. A selfless act perhaps, maybe in a way the ‘only way’ this could free the Lors and ultimately unite a community. Selfishly I see my father in his character, and believe it was something my father would also do.
There were many tender, deeply meaningful moments throughout the film that I think only children of 40+ years would get. The distance children have from their fathers when culture and stigmas coincide, the truly genuine moments of kindness that escape most of us, and ultimately the willingness to grow even at the age of 78.
I enjoyed this movie much more than I first thought. I was stunned at what I saw as blatant racism, and then was touched as a bitter old man saw something that was missing in his life, and was willing to change.
Well worth the effort to see on the big screen(or in my case DVD screener).
December 23, 2008 @ 1:52 pm Alex
very good review, like both the plot and the character, will go get the DVD for Christmas viewing for sure
January 23, 2009 @ 12:43 am Dan Draney
This film has received widespread praise and box office bonanza. Both are undeserved. The story is an urban re-telling of a classic western showdown at “high noon”: a grizzled old veteran of the Korean war, defending his new found Hmong friends from violent Hmong thugs in spite of his own blatant bigotry toward immigrants and ethnic groups. It was so predictable, and several scenes so contrived, that it seemed more the work of a beginning filmmaker than a seasoned and sophisticated director. Many scenes were over-acted, such as Eastwood’s own exaggerated grimacing and curmudgeonly disgust. Some of the attempts at humor, especially the barbershop scene, were so silly that they fell predictably flat.
But sadly, the worst part of this film is that it did nothing to challenge the racism of its main hero. While most movie goers to this film are warmed by the heartfelt conversion of Walt Kowalski toward his immigrant neighbors, even to the point of laying down his life for his new friends, there is no evidence that he ever repented of his racial bigotry. Some will object that this was the entire point of the film. But, sadly, Eastwood’s film reinforces the painful truth of all unrecognized racism–that MY immigrant friend is not the problem–it’s all those OTHER immigrants out there that are the problem. True, Mr. Kowalski acted with heroism (although even this motive is tainted by the fact that Kowalski is apparently dying of lung cancer, making his martyrdom less than perfectly selfless). But Eastwood’s unintentional message is that bigots can recognize injustice when it is right next door, while still remaining blind to how their racist attitudes contribute to injustice in society at large. For these reasons, Eastwood’s Gran Torino stays stuck in reverse and never makes into overdrive.
January 24, 2009 @ 12:01 am geri
The movie was great. I thought Clint’s acting was excellent. The younger stars were a little unfelt in some scenes but as a whole they were good. I really liked the grandmother. She did not seem to be acting in her hatred toward Mr. Kowalski. I think that the real moral of this story is Life made Mr. Kowalski bitter and this was his way of making his peace with God. It was not in his heart completely to be this bitter man. But through war and the taking of human lives he had somehow placed himself out side of humanity except for the love he had for his wife. He was so troubled by his life actions he could not open his heart to his children. He just did not know how. Yes had seem to go on without Mr. kowalski. Whether long days on the assembly line or 3 years of death through war. He was a broken and now lonely man. His selfless act in the end gave me respect for Mr. Kowalski. It was one of the best movies I have seen.
February 18, 2009 @ 2:37 pm Happy
This movie was terrible, rahter racist though but humourous. the cimematography was lacking as was some of the acting, the dialogue also seemed un realistic.
August 10, 2009 @ 4:19 pm Vaughan
This movie is quite slow at the beginning but really starts to pick up halfway through the movie.
June 15, 2010 @ 4:24 pm Truth
To the people who talk about how racist this film is or how it doesn’t do it’s civic duty to punish the racist white guy I’d have to say you are a bunch of short sighted morons.
Racism is the belief that genetically one race is better then another. This isn’t “racism” it’s culture shock! A racist would not see a zipperhead help an old lady carry in her groceries and think “Hey, maybe this kids all right” because even though he may help her on minute he is still a zipperhead and his attitude can’t change his RACE!
This movie is about showing the culture of America and how it isn’t really as racist as you think. Did you see the way he talked to his friends? Did you see the way they talk to him? Everyone of them calls him a stupid Polack! Are they racists???
You people need to drop the racist crap it’s old and we are tired of it. What we are seeing today is culture clash.
I remember growing up and watching TV and hearing comments about what bad drivers Asian people are. And I thought, damn, that’s racist. That and none of the few Asian people I knew were bad drivers. But that was in the midwest. I moved to the west coast and you know what? Asian drivers are insane! But you know why? Culture. They drive like they walk. They come from a region with over a billion people in it. No one says “excuse me” or has anything like what we would call manners. Its just their culture. If a white kid was adopted by a Chinese family he would not be a better driver just because of genetics. He would drive just as bad as his adopted parents.