Movie Review

In “Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood stars as Walk Kowalski, a Korean War Veteran living alone in a run down, multi-racial neighborhood. The film opens in the emotional wake of his wife’s death and reveals that Walt has two ungrateful children and a handful of obnoxious grandkids to show for a lifetime of hard work. As a result, he associates with and trusts no one besides his dog, his chewing tobacco, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and his vintage Gran Torino. As the film progresses, the main action follows Walt’s developing relationship with two local teenagers, Thao (Bee Vang) and Sue (Ahney Her). Numerous Asians, Mexicans and African-Americans surround Walt’s fortress of solitude, he despises all of them due to his racist attitude. Eastwood’s character takes racism to an unprecedented level of audacity and hilarity. Though extremely offensive, one can’t help but laugh at each insult Walt snarls. Eastwood’s performance was classic. As a flashback to the days of Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood brings a cynical, intimidating attitude to the screen. Surprisingly, he is almost scarier in “Gran Torino” (at age 78) than in any other film of his career. Underneath his unbearably tough exterior however, Eastwood portrays Walt’s more sensitive side to perfection. Whether hiding a life-threatening illness, attending a party with next-door neighbor Sue or defending his newfound sidekick Thao, Eastwood brings a tenderness that matches the tenacity of his role, however ashamed he may be to admit it. In addition to Eastwood’s memorable performance, Christopher Carley turns in a strong performance as well as Father Janovich, the inexperienced priest who gave word to Walt’s deceased wife that he would convince Walt to confess his sins. Through a series of hilarious failures—at one point Walt calls Janovich an “overeducated 27-year-old virgin who likes to hold the hands of superstitious old ladies and promise them everlasting life”—Father Janovich becomes a truly lovable underdog. Asian teenagers Vang and Her both give mediocre performances at best. Despite issues with mumbling and a serious lack of accurate emotion, they are given great parts that offer a plethora of interesting scenes, including a scene in which Thao attempts to fit in at the local barbershop and talk like a man. Surprisingly, the kid spews out some hilarious insults that leave even Walt with a grin on his face. The screenplay in “Gran Torino” is perfect. Writer Nick Schenk puts together a perfect balance of dramatic tension, racist humor, brutal action and pure Eastwood greatness. His adaptation of the story by Dave Johannson left me delirious from laughing one minute and pitifully sad the next—the whole time keeping me on the edge of my seat. The screenplay, combined with Eastwood’s straightforward, emotionally unpredictable style of directing, made “Gran Torino” the undisputed great film of the Oscar season. It is quasi-sacrilegious that “Gran Torino” was snubbed for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and that it lost its shot at nomination to average films like “Milk” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Where “Milk” was praised due to its relevance to the current struggle for gay marriage, and “Benjamin Button” was admired for its use of innovative technology, “Gran Torino” didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. Eastwood gave the performance of his career, delivering lines with a sneer that would make Sean Penn shudder, and the writers put together a coming of age story that managed to ensue in both hilarious exchanges and one of the most poignant endings in recent movie history. “Gran Torino” is the only film from the holiday season to successfully combine comedy, drama and action. All in all, it is the magnum opus of one of the greatest American actors, Eastwood. Perfectly balanced and multi-faceted, “Gran Torino” gives us a lovable jerk in Walt who turns out to be more than you might expect. The movie does too. Grade: 6