Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by Nick Schenk.
Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang and Ahney Her.
Release Year: 2008
Review Date: 12/17/08
People who know me know that I embrace
racism in all forms because, quite simply, it isn't going anywhere
and to talk about a life where our new president rides down a
magical trail and sprinkles fairy dust on racists and makes it great
for everyone to love black people and for all black people to
suddenly face no racism is an out-and-out fucking lie. "Gran
Torino", then, embraces the fact that somewhere, there is a
78-year-old white guy who calls Asians "gouks" TO THEIR FACE, along
with any of the following (all used during the film): japs,
slant-eyes, zipperheads, dogeaters, and chinks.
True, that 78-year-old white guy is played
by 78-year-old white guy Clint Eastwood...but, still, he is playing
an out-and-out racist.
During my free screening tonight (the film
opens in select places before the end of the year, but then wide on
January 9th), many people were laughing at Walt Kawalski's racist,
profanity-laden diatribes on his next-door neighbors in modern-day
Michigan; I'm sure this was a mix of the uncomfortable, the truly
funny sequences, and any time where uncertainty just leads people to
try and laugh off moments of displeasure, real or imagined. In
"Gran Torino", Walt--who is at the funeral of his recently-deceased
wife when the film opens--navigates life simply, by fixing things
during the day time (having finished a long career working for
Ford...talk about timely filmmaking), drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon out
of cans on his front porch at night, and waxing his 1972 Ford Gran
Torino on weekends in his garage. The car, and Walt's dog, are
his only prized possessions following tours of duty overseas and his
Ford career...his two sons never won Walt's attention (one even had
the nerve to go into sales for a FOREIGN automaker, sealing his
fate), and with his wife gone, Walt spends his days waiting mainly
Circumstances change when a Hmong
family--one of many that live on Walt's street now--becomes a steady
part of Walt's life, thanks to the attempted theft of his Gran
Torino by a teenage outcast named Thao (Bee Vang), who has gotten
involved in gang life thanks to an unruly cousin. After
swearing off everything that isn't white, Walt is forced to open up
(just a smidge) if he's going to make it in his new/old
"Gran Torino" shines thanks to the first
acting work Eastwood has done since "Million Dollar Baby" four years
ago. And, naturally, he gets mucho mileage out of looking, and
sounding, like a total old-guy badass. This is legit thanks to
how his character is written...but, I'm sure some of that is knowing
that this character is played by an actor we recognize as a tough
guy. And, even though he might look 75 or 80, he sounds like
he is 120. Easy. Eastwood gets so much out of angry
grunts whenever he sees people or situations he doesn't like, you
almost want him to make a comedy where all he does is growl in all
of his scenes. It's hilarious! But, I like that the Walt
character doesn't go from spit-in-your-face racist to loving patron
saint...no, his development is to slide just a tad into acceptable,
and just as you think he might slip, he will call Thao a zipperhead,
putting him back squarely into the role of old racist white guy.
What was truly interesting to me was to
watch the Hmong families react to Walt as the racist that he is, in
a way that felt very familiar to me because I do this whenever I
talk to/hear about old racist white people...sometimes, totally
because it's all they have ever known, old racist white people say
things that they've said so many times they probably don't even get
how racist it is. Look, some old people say "colored" as
nothing more than a story descriptor. They might even like
black people and call them colored, and I've been sitting next to
old white people when they say it! In "Gran Torino", Walt will
call an Asian person a slant-eye to their face and they look at him
with this look that says, "stupid old white guy!" and not "Dear
Lord! What did you just call me?" and I'm sure it is one of the best
subtleties of the whole film. Just this one thing bumps
everything up a notch.
Of course, the film is already right up
there in terms of notches. Eastwood is 75% of the film.
The rest is the good-enough collection of first-time performers and
non-actors who are subjected to Walt's anger in various forms.
The script is great in "Gran Torino", but as mentioned a second ago,
the magic is in its subtlety...Walt and Thao's grandmother have a
running thing where they just look at each other and you know they
hate each other; hilarious. Walt and his barber exchange
profanity-laden gestures as Walt pays for his trim...hilarious.
Walt and Thao's sister end a moment that appears to show Walt
turning for the better with Walt saying to her "Okay, dragon
lady...get me a beer!"...hilarious. But, then, the drama is
good as well, and we get at least four scenes where Walt is staring
somebody down and you just completely buy that this old guy could
whoop your ass.
"Gran Torino" is very difficult to
categorize, so I'll go with this: it is strangely populist
entertainment in what appears to be an indie film body, complete
with a sparse budget, sparse soundtrack, many rookie performers and
an out-of-the-box approach. In a year that is one of the
weakest on record, "Gran Torino" has a legit shot at getting Clint
another Oscar nomination (maybe Picture, maybe Actor), because I
didn't think it had a single glaring flaw.
Rating: Opening Weekend
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard