Movie Review: Gran Torino



Not exactly the best endorsement for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America…


Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley, and John Carroll Lynch. Directed by Clint Eastwood.


Walt Kowalski (Eatswood) is a Korean War vet and retired Ford plant worker that, as of the beginning of the film, has lost his wife. He’s the kind of guy steeped in the Old World and Old School values. As he stands beside his wife’s casket in church he grits his teeth and stares down a granddaughter who has a nose ring and belly-button piercing. If that wasn’t enough he’s forced to be around people he doesn’t like and for the moment, they’re forced to be around him. Aside from that he smokes, chews tobacco, and drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon while sitting on his front porch staring at a suburb he’s lived in a majority of his life which has became an object of “white flight.” Most of his neighbors are now Asian/Hmong (pronounced “mung”) and the eldest woman next door wonders why he’s still around. The one true pride and joy of his life is his car, a green 1972 Gran Torino (which he proudly states that he put the wheel column in while it was still on the line).


Enter Thao (Vang), a young Hmong kid who lives next door to Kowalski. Thao has low self-esteem from growing up without a father and having his older sister Su (Her), mother, and whoever else berate him. When Thao is confronted by his gang-leader cousin, he bends under peer-pressure and tries stealing the GT. Kowalski thwarts his attempt and Thao returns home in shame. When his cousin causes a fight on the family’s front lawn it spills over into Kowalski’s. Kowalski busts out his M1 Garand and breaks up the fight, saving Thao’s life. The next day Kowalski is the neighborhood hero when he just wants to be left alone.


One afternoon he drives home in his truck and sees Su and a friend being accosted by a few black kids. He pulls up, talks with the them, pulls out a 9mm, saves her, tells the friend to get lost, and gives her a ride back to the neighborhood. A friendship is forged as they talk and she is his tour guide through the world of the Hmong (“We’re hill people not jungle people.”)


The film’s main theme is personal worth. Kowalski is a racist guy who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone. His own grown-up kids don’t like dealing with him and don’t know how to. Whenever he greets someone, he announces their background: “Hey, you Mick.” “Hey, you Polack.” With his wife dead and few friends, he lives in a sea of regret, bad memories, and worse nightmares. As for Thao, he doesn’t have any personal worth to speak of. As Kowalski “takes him under his wing,” Thao develops a sense of pride and accomplishment with himself. Both are seemingly heading for redemption.


What I liked about this movie was that it was better than I expected it to be, and not what I thought it was at all. If Eastwood wasn’t who he was, I could entirely imagine him being this guy. Think “Dirty Harry” Callahan one step away from the nursing home. He’s old, retired, pissed-off, and is watching a world going to waste. It’s this attitude that makes the story believable, the comic moments funny, and the reality tragic.


Also, I liked the fact that the setting of the story was a section of a city where “white flight” had occurred. I’ve wondered why I haven’t seen that subject brought up in other films and give kudos for the fact that it’s been one of the first that I know of to address the issue.


Last note: the ending. While I won’t say what happens, I will say that it was incredibly smart. Good job, guys.


But, how is the movie? Probably one of the best matinees I’ve caught in a long time. It’s funny, sad, poignant, but most of all, well-made. Eastwood has said that this is the last movie he’ll act in. If that’s the case, I couldn’t think of a better one.


My grade: A




2 Responses to “Movie Review: Gran Torino”

  1. February 20, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Lovely review. =)


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