Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GRAN TORINO

“GRAN TORINO” (Clint Eastwood)
The preview to this reeked of ‘Dirty Harry’ retires & takes on rural gangbangers...
In other words, a cheap little vigilante tale where ‘Grandpa Harry’ takes out the trash by blowing away the Asian gang members because they have the audacity to step on his lawn (& judging from the title of the film, one must figure that they mess with his vintage auto as well) but there’s a pleasant surprise to ‘Gran Torino’ that I wasn’t expecting – This film is actually about an unexpected friendship that forms & becomes meaningful & touching in a very realistic way. It is, in fact, “The Visitor” re-told with different characters & the main alteration is that instead of the old guy being a decent, friendly person – Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is a cross between Dirty Harry Callahan & Archie Bunker. The one thing I would hate to see happen is Eastwood getting Richard Jenkins slot in the Best Actor category come Oscar nomination time; Jenkins deserves it, Clint does not. My opinion of Clint Eastwood has changed dramatically over the years, but one thing is clear – the man isn’t a great actor – oh, he’s grown on me, but mainly due to the fact that he knows how to make an entertaining film. He’s a top notched director; as a producer he knows how to select wonderful projects & one can’t help but be impressed with his musical talent as a composer. An extremely talented man, but when it comes to acting, he just ‘serviceable’. His grunts & groans as Walt garnered ‘titters’ from the audience I viewed this film with, but the perpetual sneer on his lips & constant grumbling made Walt unlikable to me. But eventually Walt does grow on you – as HE discovers a person’s race doesn’t determine whether or not they’re a good person. & who is Walt Kowalski to judge, since he isn’t such a nice guy himself?
The film opens with the funeral of Walt’s wife; in attendance are his two sons. Odd thing is, they don’t seem to be very emotional – they’re more concerned with what ‘Dad’s going to do with the house’ & that didn’t come off as very believable to me. Usually if Dad is the overly gruff type, it means Mom was a sweetheart. Later, the eldest son & his wife ‘celebrate’ Walt’s birthday by getting him a phone with huge, easy to read numbers & brochures to retirement homes, even though Walt has shown no interest in moving, nor any trouble with making phone calls. Walt (Still in his squinting, sneering, growling phase) kicks them out of his home... ‘on his birthday!’ the son declares. Some audience members laughed loudly at this, even though it was shown in the trailer, where it seemed that it might be an amusing scene, but it wasn’t. It was 2 dorks making suggestions to a grumpy old geezer that they had no business making & at this point in the story – NONE of these people are likable... in fact, they are all quite annoying.
The only character of interest is the young priest that presided over the funeral of Walt’s wife (Father Janovich played by Christopher Carley) He promised her before she passed that he would look in on Walt from time to time & he keeps that promise, even though every time he visits Walt he gets insulted.
Walt’s favorite activity is to sit on his porch with his dog, Daisy & mumble insults at the elderly Asian woman next door – though neither knows what the other is saying, the communication is clear – they don’t like each other.
The ‘real’ story begins to develop through Clint’s Asian next door neighbors & they’re involuntary association with a gang of thugs that drive around harassing the neighborhood. Sue & Thao (Ahney Her & Bee Vang) are the children in the family & Thao becomes the target of the gang when he seems reluctant to join them. This leads to the scene where the gang members end up brawling on Walt’s precious lawn. When the Asian families in the neighborhood start to leave presents on his porch to show their thanks for driving off the thugs, Walt eventually comes to realize these ‘fish heads’ are actually decent people.
Walt changes & becomes Archie Bunker without Edith when he takes Thao to visit his buddy the barber (Played by John Carroll Lynch, whom TV viewers might remember as Drew Carey’s cross-dressing brother, or movie goers would know as the main suspect in last year’s “Zodiac”) This is when Walt won me over – despite the racial slurs that are thrown about – it is done to such an extreme that it’s humorous. & you come to the realization that Walt doesn’t ‘just’ have a problem with Asians, he hates EVERYBODY – so Thao shouldn’t take it personal when Walt calls him Toad & makes statements such as “I’ll come over for dinner, but you gooks better stay away from my dog!”
As I tried to pinpoint why ‘Gran Torino’ winds up as being a very impressive film, I have to credit both ‘character development’, & the unexpected twists – the 2 things I thought for sure would happen, didn’t. When the movie ended it dawned on me how that was ‘refreshing’ – Clint didn’t follow the ‘fomula’, & in doing so created a very original film out of an ‘ages old’ plotline.
For both this & ‘Changeling’, he deserves accolades for his directing talents – but please, Oscar voters, please don’t give him Richard Jenkins’ Best Actor nomination.

11 comments:

Alan Smithee said...

Haven't seen the movie yet but want to even more due to your review.

Just wanted to mention that in the first "Dirty Harry" Inspector DiGiorgio says to the Hispanic newbie that Inspector Callahan hates every race or ethnic group equally. Sounds like Clint may have recycled that device in "Gran Torino."

dbm said...

I see Terry has two followers, whoo-ee, fancipants !
I have not compiled my entire list of movies I have seen for the year of 2008, but I can pretty much safely say Gran Torino probably made my top 10. At least in the top 15.
I saw more than Dirty Harry Callahan in this role though. I think since it may be Clint's swan song for acting, he brought several characters to play Walt Kowalski. I saw a tad of William Munny, Gunny SGT Thomas Hightower, Blondie from G,B&U,, Philo Beddoe, and Frank Corvin from Space Cowboys. A sprinkling of a little bit of each, I saw in there.
I totally agree that Clint was wise to steer away from cliche, where it could have ventured into very easily.
Also, what separates Walt from the other characters is he finds some redemption and learns something in himself, when the other characters do not change, and Walt does some. Don't think he loses any surliness though. He always is that.
Terry wants Richard Jenkins to get that 5th spot for Best Actor at the Oscar's, but I just have a funny feeling the Academy is going to go the sentimental route and might nominate Clint instead, to send him off on his last acting job with a nod.
Plus, he has been popular with the Academy for some time now. Richard Jenkins has many more roles and years ahead of him and just doesn't have the clout or popularity Eastwood has.
I did find one thing kind of disturbing while watching Gran Torino, and that was the several laughs that were uttered when Walt spews his bigoted hate. Just when you think we have made big strides in our country as decent people, then you have people that still laugh at the word gook.

blue stater said...

I saw Gran Torino Sunday night after watching my Eagles advance to the NFC Championship ( YES ! ) and we liked it. Like the other person noted, I could see this in my top 10 of the year. I was really taken by about 5 films and the rest seemed to fall in the average category for me. Never expected Slumdog or The Wrestler. They came out of the woodwork.

I also saw shades of Gunnery Hightower from Heartbreak Ridge a little in Walt too. It's that voice.

I really can't predict or who deserves an Oscar nomination. I do think Clint's performance has a bit a panache and spice to it. So if the Oscar's did vote for him would that be a shocker ? I don't think so. Maybe Jenkins and Eastwood make it in and Pitt is left off and then Pitt gets a supporting nomination for Burn After Reading ? You never know.

All in all, I liked Gran Torino and I'm glad they decided to make Walt more well rounded than keeping him the same the entire movie.

Terry R. said...

Mr. Smithee, I look forward to reading your thoughts after you get a chance to catch the film...
DBM, Don't MOCK my FOLLOWERS!
Actually, 'Google' sent me an email that said 'This Will Help Bring New Readers To Your Blog', so I added the feature - I have no idea how it's supposed to work!
Hollywood can 'celebrate' Clint's achievements from now until forever, so give Jenkins the nomination he deserves NOW (He's no spring chicken either, you know. I don't see how you can say he'll have a lot more opportunities ahead...
On the racial slurs, I laughed at the 'over-the-top' scenes in the barber shop because they were purposely slamming all races in an effort to show Thao how ridiculous 'name calling' was. I chuckled a few times at Walt's use of ethnic slurs because he'd say them straight to the people he was chiding - Walt just didn't care what anyone thought of him & I could relate to that side of his character, so I laughed at his brash attitude, more than at the mere use of the slurs he spit out. & I liked how Thao & Sue just let his remarks slide down their backs like water off a duck - Like they both knew there was more to Walt than his 'fowl' mouth... So I wouldn't take it to heart that audience members were laughing at 'inappropriate' remarks - Funny is funny; we have come a long way from the 60's when I grew up, but I surely hope that we don't lose our sense of humor over the differences between ethnicities & religions. My philosophy is - we are all racists, it just depends on to what 'degree'. I have no idea what it is like to be black, Asian or Latino - a female or gay, for that matter - so I am ignorant of what it means to be anything but a goofy white dude...
& Blue Stater - Of course, you can predict, or state who you think deserves to get an Oscar nod - that's why we have this comment section! Everyone is entitled to their opinion (Except when it differs from mine) & since I'm not one to 'take in' what others think, I'm more than likely going to disagree with the masses. I've never liked Clint Eastwood as an actor - the westerns, the Dirty Harry films & (especially) the CLyde movies showed me an actor with very limited range; though I could understand the appeal of a 'Harry Callahan', I didn't think it took a great actor to portray him. Clint has MADE some of my favorite movies of the past 6 years or so - 'Mystic River' being the best - so when you guys start mentioning how 'Walt Kowalski' has bits of 'several' other characters Eastwood has played in the past, it just feeds my belief that Clint 'doesn't have a lot of range'. Just that in 'Gran Torino',
he pulled off a nice surprise by giving Walt an unexpected final scene, & for that I applaud the man, & hope he gets 2 shots at
Best Director & none for Best Actor...

movie luva said...

I saw Defiance and Gran Torino today after work. I liked them both. Entirely two different films obviously.

I am half Japanese, so I wasn't sure how I was going to take to GT. But I thought it was very well written. The screenwriter doesn't lay off on the reality of Walt as a racist. I knew a older friend and his father that was just like Walt Kowalski. Most of the men that serfved in WWII and Korea were raised that way. But he just stayed racist his whole life until he died. I was so happy to see Walt turn a corner.

I was worried he was going to just remain the same old racist throughout the film and I think that would have been really lame.

There is definitely a message behind this film. And it also shows you that most people at one time or another carried around some ignorance with them, and that it's never to late to be enlightened.

I also think that this role was perfect for Clint. He personified the character with ease. And how about that man's physique ? Did you see the size of those bicepts. At 78 ? He looks like he could go another 20 years !

Very good movie. Good, enjoyable movie watching, and it was nice to also see John Carroll Lynch. I always liked him since he was in Fargo.

Alan Smithee said...

"Gran Torino" came to my outpost in Indiana!

Herself and I truly enjoyed the story, the dramatization, the direction, and the dialogue. Truly a well-crafted film.

The Hmong neighbors were convincing and interesting. When Walt/Clint gets immersed in Hmong culture, I laughed harder than at any film in 2008.

The ending was fitting and pious. I say no more lest I spoil the film for Terry's readers.

I have liked almost all Clint Eastwood films. I am thinking that "Gran Torino" will rank below "Unforgiven" on my list of Eastwood films. I put it somewhere among "Million Dollar Baby," "True Crime," "In the Line of Fire," and -- guilty pleasure -- "A Perfect World."

dbm said...

Glad you got to see Gran Torino Alan Smithee. Your analogy summed up the movie perfectly.
You mentioned some of your favorite Eastwood films. Here are my top ten ( acting ) Clint films

1) Unforgiven
2) Gran Torino
3) In The Line Of Fire
4) Million Dollar Baby
5) Play Misty For Me
6) The Beguiled ( those were some crazy ladies ! )
7) Escape From Alcatrazz
8) Thunderbolt & Lightfoot
9) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
10) Dirty Harry

Honorable Mentions- True Crime, Outlaw Josey Wales, Space Cowboys, Heartbreak Ridge, and guilty pleasure, Anyway Which Way But Loose.
I made my top 25 list of the year and Gran Torino made my top 5 !

Terry R. said...

I'm a little surprsied that everyone (so far) has loved this film - just because of the racial dialogue - I like that Movieluva, who has a right to be offended by Walt's comments, was able to forgive him when he 'turns a corner' by simply allowing himself to get to know his neighbors & become enlightened that they are just like everybody else.
As far as listing your favorite Clint movies, please do. I won't be adding mine since its pretty much Million Dollar Baby & Gran Torino (As fas as films he's acted in) 'Unforgiven' was Gene Hackman's baby as far as I'm concerned... I already know that dbm thinks Clint will win for Best Actor because Hollywood wants to 'reward' him for his career, but how about everyone else? I just saw 'Defiance' & can't see how anyone could say that Daniel Craig's performance doesn't deserve recognition over Eastwood's. (Or Langella or Pitt, for that matter) Yes, Gran Torino is a very good film, but does the guy that played Walt Kowalski deserve an Academy Award nomination for protraying him, or was Walt just a fascinating character to begin with?

dbm said...

I never said I think Clint would win. I said I was rooting for him to get a nod. There's a good chance he might not get an Oscar nomination. But if I had to actually bet, I would bet he will. Langella, Penn and Rourke are the locks. Then you have Clint, Pitt and Jenkins. One will be left out. Clint not getting a SAG nomination isn't a positive sign.
But as in the role of Walt, I think Clint was the best choice to play him. I don't think I could see Hackman, Hoffman or even Duvall in the role. It was Clint's, and he made it work perfect.

movie luva said...

I'm pretty surprised to see GT shut out at the Oscars. I wasn't so sure about Clint in the acting category, but I thought he had a real good chance at directing for Changeling. Many they feel he has been recognized enough ? Tough break. Maybe the Human Factor next year.

Terry R. said...

I don't understand the 'love affair' with The Reader - Is Hollywood saying we adore pedophiles now? Glad Clint didn't get an acting nod, but he definitely deserved to be on the Best Director list - shunned for the pedophile movie again!