Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eastwood: Still Packing the Horsepower

Gran Torino

Release: 01.09.09
Rated R
1 hour, 56 minutes

Full Price ($$$$)

After the recent loss of his wife, Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge) wants little to do with his family or his neighbors. Actually, the grizzled, grumpy Korean War vet had little use for them even before his wife's passing. When a local gang shakedown spills into his finely kept yard, Walt's actions make him sort of a neighborhood hero. His straight-forward, charismatic neighbor Sue (Ahney Her) coaxes craggy Walt out of his shell. As Walt accepts the company of his Hmong neighbors, the jilted gang becomes increasingly aggressive, leaving folks to turn to him for answers and action.

Fans of Clint, this is a must-see performance. Eastwood revives Sgt. Gunny Highway's gravelly voice and Dirty Harry's disdain for most everyone in his portrayal of Walt. Walt is far from one-dimensional; he's full of regrets and an equal amount of charm. He enjoys a good case of beer and is quite personable in his own brusque way. Watching and coming to understand him is the crux of Gran Torino.

It's the motivations of the supporting cast which aren't as clear. The slimness of the Hmong neighbors' background, Father Janovich's (Christopher Carley, Lions for Lambs) persistence and Walt's children's absence may create an unbalanced story for some audiences. I enjoyed the solitary focus, and as always, appreciated Eastwood's attention to the details.

Dirty Undies
Another thing that may bother some audiences is the excessive use of racial epithets. Whether Walt is speaking to or about his Hmong neighbors, the gang or even his barber ("That Guy" John Carroll Lynch, Zodiac), there's a slang term that is sure to offend someone. Eastwood's portrayal tints Walt's foul mouth with palpable disdain or joking affection, depending on the recipient. While still totally inappropriate by today's politically correct standards, it reminds us it is sometimes more important to listen to how things are said instead of what is said.

Gran Torino also dishes out a fair amount of violence. The elderly vet holds his own on more than one occasion with the gang. Don't let the blood and beatings steer you away; it's not gratuitous.

The Money Shot
I'm a huge fan of Clint Eastwood as an actor and director, so it should be no surprise that I enjoyed Gran Torino. It's a well-crafted tale of redemption with the kind of saltiness I always enjoy in my movies. If you're like me, take a ride with some vintage Eastwood.

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  1. I loved this film. One of Eastwoods best ever!

    I'm stunned that it didn't get any noms this year.

  2. I was surprised by the lack of noms too. At the least, I thought Eastwood would have gotten one for the acting.

  3. Slumdog and the Wrestler took the spotlight away from it. In addition, this film is not as good as Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby.

  4. Slumdog is a great film, no doubt. The Wrestler is on tap for me this weekend - finally!

    GT is far from Million Dollar Baby or Mystic River in impact. Some rough acting in parts really hurt GT. Not Eastwood's mind you, I thought he was great.

  5. "GT is far from Million Dollar Baby or Mystic River in impact."


    You'll like The Wrestler.

  6. I remembered "that guy" as Norm Gunderson from Fargo! Great review.

  7. Yep! Norm and his duck stamp.


  8. Gran Torino is not Eastwood's best film as director or actor but it perfectly encapsulates his onscreen persona and his brilliant directorial career. Good review, check out mine when you can!