I’ll start right off by saying I’m a fan of Clint Eastwood. I suppose I always have been. From his epic westerns at first, then even things like “Play Misty For Me” and “The Beguiled”, and of course the Dirty Harry series, too. I’d also recommend a movie called “A Perfect World”. Not many people seem to talk about it, but it’s a great film, both starring and directed by Eastwood.
His new film, “Gran Torino”, is not exactly what I expected, but satisfies nonetheless. Rumor has it it’s a kind of swan song for Clint Eastwood as an actor because he’d like to concentrate on directing. It’s not a terrible way to cap off a 60 year acting career.
Clint plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War vet that, after losing his wife, begrudgingly takes under his wing the teenage Hmong boy that lives next door to teach him some things about being a man.
The teenage neighbor, Thao, has a cousin that is in a local gang, and they try to force Thao to join. Walt stops a fight in his front yard using a rifle as a peacemaker. Walt makes some enemies that night. This sets various events in motion that lead to a climax you might not expect from a Clint Eastwood movie.
Clint is great in this. He is pure Eastwood. Walt is an old school, gravelly voiced curmudgeon that isn’t much on smiles and niceties. He is indeed a product of an earlier time. At his wife’s funeral service, his grand-daughter shows up wearing an outfit that involves showing her belly-button. Walt wears a scowl that says, “What IS wrong with kids today?”
Walt is very old school. He’s also quite a racist. He uses MANY derogatory terms in reference to the Koreans next door, and well, most everybody. I haven’t heard the words “spook”, “slope” and “swamp rat” used in I don’t know how long. But by golly, you’ll get ‘em all and more here. In many ways this film is about learning tolerance. Walt’s journey toward that is one that will make you wince on occasion, and also laugh, which I didn’t really expect, but there are some funny moments here.
This film is also about romanticized movie violence. It was clearly a message Eastwood wanted to convey: that violence isn’t always the answer to ones’ problems. Sometimes there is a better way. Oh, Clint’s still got it, don’t worry about that. And the finger gun thing is cool Clint.
Most of the other actors are fine, though occasionally one or two show their limitations. Actor Bee Vang, who plays Thao, seems new and when he needs to show some extreme emotion, comes off as forced and inexperienced. But he’s not awful, and most of the film he is appropriate in his role as the quiet, obedient teen with no real direction yet in his life.
Choua Kue plays Youa, Thao’s savvy, kind of smart-ass sister, who isn’t phased by Walt’s racist language and attitude. She gets Walt to come out of his grumpy world and into hers and Thao’s, though not without some effort.
This isn’t Eastwood’s best film. There are some stereotypes and some inexperienced acting, but it’s still a good film, and Clint is great in it. And he is such an accomplished director. There are some real fine moments, both funny and poignant. “The thing that haunts a man most is what he isn’t ordered to do,” Walt says in a defining scene. He really surprises us in the end, too. This is definitely worth checking out.
–Neil T. Weakley, your average movie goer, kinda glad there wasn’t an orangutan in this.