Clint Eastwood is Gran Torino
The snarl, the stare, the ragged looks and a character who demands your attention when ever is on the screen, this is Clint Eastwood doing what he does best, "Gran Torino" is Clint Eastwood. And if as some critics predict that "Gran Torino" turns out to be Eastwood's last venture in front of the camera then it is a fitting end to a career which has seen him play some of movies most iconic characters.
Recently widowed Vietnam vet Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood - Million Dollar Baby) seems to be in a permanent bad mood. He despises his children who buy Japanese instead of American and are all to keen to pack him off to a retirement home just so that they can fill their pockets with his belongings. But it is the deterioration of his Detroit neighbourhood which upsets him the most. Surrounded by immigrants from Hmong and Vietnam who care little for their properties and repulse him with their barbaric customs, Walt treats them all equally with a barrage of racial language which most of it is unprintable. But after a run in with the children next door Walt starts to soften, well towards Sue (Ahney Her), Thao (Bee Vang) and their family.
The strange thing is the character of Walt should be someone we despise; his cantankerous nature and racist comments are not something that should endear him to us. But somehow Eastwood makes the character likeable, the fact he says what he feels right or wrong is likeable. You get an understanding that Walt knows no better, he was raised in an era when calling someone a "Gook" was acceptable and political correctness has passed him by. But also that he is a man who believes in certain things such as respect, tradition and pride things which his children, grandchildren and those in his neighbourhood lack.
But against his Will, Walt finds himself drawn into the life of his neighbours when Thao, the fatherless teenage boy from next door attempts to steal his prize Gran Torino as part of an initiation test set by a local Hmong gang. Forced to act when a fight breaks out on his lawn, Walt not only takes the law into his own hands but also takes Thao and his sister under his wing.
There is one basic fact about "Gran Torino" which is quite surprising, it delivers nothing new. Racism, patriotism, vigilantism have all been done in numerous other movies but somehow "Gran Torino" feels different and I would say it's not just Clint Eastwood's larger than life screen presence which achieves this but the fact that as a director he keeps things extremely simple. He doesn't throw too many twists at us or explosive action, preferring to keep things remarkably straight forwards and honest.
I say that it doesn't deliver anything new but would say the ending, which I won't reveal, manages to stray away from the predictable ending you would most likely expect. Yes it is emotional but not to the extent that I have heard of some people leaving the cinema weeping.
Although Eastwood is the big name star, he is matched by his two main co-stars Bee Vang and Ahney Her as Thao and his sister Sue. It is the character of Sue which will probably be the one which you remember the most from "Gran Torino" as she add a spark to what could be a very flat movie. A scene where she walks Walt through her house and throws quick fire quips at him as he calls her relatives one derogatory term after another is very memorable and to be frank provides a little much needed lightness. What is all the more extraordinary is that Van and Her are not professional actors and "Gran Torino" was for both of them their first screen performances.
What this all boils down to is without a doubt "Gran Torino" won't sit comfortably for everyone, it certainly left me very uncomfortable for the first few scenes. But once you get past all the opening scenes you find a very interesting and entertaining movie which delivers a message of understanding and acceptance with out feeling over preachy.