I genuinely can’t think of anything to put here, so I’m just going to witter on for a few lines. This is so the casual observer will think that I’ve actually taken the time to write a suitable preamble. But I haven’t. I must be a genius.
I just like seeing Clint Eastwood. From the Dollars trilogy to Million Dollar Baby, I just find the man a pleasure to watch. He’s not the best actor in the world, but he definitely has an old-school presence about him- a quality which (arguably) a lot of modern actors do not possess.
Cantankerous grumbler and war veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) yearns for the America of yesteryear. His wife passed away, he’s patronised by his family and his neighbourhood is predominately populated by Asian families. However, when his beloved mint condition 1972 Gran Torino is almost stolen, Walt is slowly forced to build an uneasy friendship with his Asian neighbours. The story is really good, with Walt’s evolution from stay-at-home bigot to actually rather friendly bigot, both believable and charming. Clint Eastwood is pretty decent as Kowalski, playing him more along the lines of “Dirty” Harry Callahan than anything else. Sure, Eastwood is a bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to acting, but when the trick’s as enjoyable as this, I don’t mind. His performance veered into almost self-parodic territory at times, but is eventually all sorted out by the time the credits roll.
Gran Torino is a great watch marred slightly by a thick layer of cheese. It’s very easy to say something is “cheesy” and move on like that description somehow suffices, so I’ll try to explain what I mean as best I can. Gran Torino seemed to take itself very seriously from the way everything is presented. I was on board with the film when it seemed like Eastwood was giving Kowalski a comedic edge, be it growling like a dog or his slow, burning rage at the infantilising being dished out by his son and his daughter-in-law, resulting in this brilliant face. It was refreshing when Kowalski was unleashing his substantial knowledge of racially insensitive words and phrases. By the end, all or nearly all of Kowalski’s traits have been eradicated in favour of the more socially acceptable end of the characteristics spectrum, which I found to be a shame. It’s always the way in Hollywood films- rude, social outcast reluctantly is befriended by an outsider and slowly learns that he’s been wrong all along, changes his ways and becomes a better person. The basic plot similarities between this and Disney/Pixar’s Up are quite striking.
Although the film focuses on Walt’s interactions with Thao (Bee Vang), I thought that the relationship between Kowalski and Sue (Ahney Her) was the strongest thing in the film. It’s realistic without being mundane and charming without being twee. The scene where Walt protects Sue from some local thugs and then drives her home, for instance, is brilliantly done and well-written. It’s no coincidence that I found Sue’s story arc to be the most emotionally affecting of all the characters. Although the scenes with Thao were good, some of them were almost overwritten to the point of the two trading soliloquys rather than just two normal people talking.
As I said, Gran Torino is a fine film. I just wish I hadn’t guessed the end 20 minutes before it ended. At its best, it’s a decent flick about acceptance ‘n that. At its worst, it’s an Eastwood vanity project with a sappy moral centre. It’s worth a watch, but don’t be shocked if your eyes start rolling uncontrollably towards the end.