Gran Torino: Not So Easy Rider
I'm one of those girls who's always loved action movies. I don't know why. I could blame my father for obtaining the remote and then forcing me into the situation of either watching the Magnificent Seven for the third time or going upstairs and finishing my "Wuthering Heights" book report. I always chose the former mostly because I personally couldn't stand Heathcliff and Cathy's whiny banter. Emily was not my favorite Bronte sister. Anyway, what I've been left with is the indelible images of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and John Wayne in their iconic "anti-hero" roles. Oddly enough, there wasn't much Clint Eastwood on those weekend afternoons, despite his "Dirty" Harry Callahan having reached icon status literally the day that movie came out.
So the Clint Eastwood that I've become familiar with is the kinder, gentler, septugenarian Eastwood, and while I was prepared for a return to his roots (at least that's what all the promos for Gran Torino call it) I guess I wasn't fully prepared. While I did like the movie, I think I liked it more in hindsight, after I had a chance to process it, than I actually ENJOYED watching the movie in theater. As always, let's start at the beginning:
The audience is introduced to Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) on the day of his wife's funeral. I wonder if we had met Walt on any other day whether he would have been a happier person. From what I watched for the next 2 hours, I'm guessing there was never a day when this guy would ever be what any of us call "happy". Instead what we find is a man devoid of most emotions, except for anger, spewing racial slurs and recalling "the good old days" when people of different cultures were kept entirely separate of each other. A WASP to the nth degree Kowalski is a man who, to put it mildly, does not handle change well. The occasional interruptions from a local priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) are pretty much his only connection to the outside world. That is until an unexpected event causes his world to collide with that of his new neighbors, who happen to be Hmong (look it up on Google if you're not familiar, it'll count towards your "learn something new every day" quota, it's what I just did).
While I have to say I enjoyed the last third of this movie, I found the first 2/3 to be slightly tedious, not really treading much new water. It's a "getting to know you" story, that suffers all the more, at least in my opinion, from the extreme use of racist language. It felt more authentic when Michelle Pfeiffer was teaching her inner-city kids in Dangerous Minds. Like all of these movies, a tragedy must be suffered to make us realize that we should just define ourselves as human instead of using labels, and I find Eastwood still has a couple of tricks up his sleeve to make those moments emotional.
If you're a Clint Eastwood fan, this is probably a must see. There are moments when you're just expecting him to end every question with "well do ya punk?" but all in all, the script leaves much to be desired. However, Eastwood's direction, as well as his emerging foray into scores, is on target and impressive. Of the 2 films he's released this year, I would say Changeling is the better, but there will be plenty who disagree with me. Either way, it's friggin amazing what Eastwood has been able to accomplish in the last 10 years, and that goes for anyone of any age. The one thing I can say is that an Eastwood film is never boring.
3.5 out of 5 sawed off shotguns (legally obtained of course)