“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.