Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang
Walt Kowalski, an aging, bitter Korean War veteran, has just suffered the loss of his beloved wife. Further still, his once beautiful neighborhood has since been repopulated by the overtly peaceful Hmong, just one race of many that Walt has developed hostility towards over the years. When next-door neighbor Thao is confronted by his delinquent cousin and his lackies, he soon finds out that in order to roll with them, the theft of Walt’s most valued possession, his Gran Torino, is required in order for initiation. After being caught, Thao feels the wrath of his captor, having to work for him to compensate for such a mistake. What ensues is essentially a tale of racial morality and much needed companionship, as Walt begins to befriend both Thao and the rest of his family, supporting them in all their endeavors as a result of his own family’s neglect.
What’s most apparent throughout Gran Torino is the sheer brilliance of Eastwood’s flawless directing and portrayal of the film’s main character. Needless to say, in the company of a cast full of amateurs, Eastwood effortlessly steals the show, despite some worthwhile efforts. One of the film’s more appealing elements in this respect is the humor that comes as a result of the stubbornness Walt exhibits towards both his family and new neighbors. It’s this humor coupled with some genuinely touching subject matter that makes the film stand out among some of the best of 2008.
The film also doesn’t dwell on the obvious conflict present between Walt and just about every other character he interacts with; he quickly manages to resolve said conflict and do what’s right when his new life begins to throw him curveballs. With this in mind, the events in Gran Torino are strung together seamlessly and, more importantly, in a very coherent manner, unlike Eastwood’s first effort of the year, Changeling. Furthermore, all characters aside from Walt and Thao aren’t necessarily developed as fully as you’d expect, but in my opinion, that’s just what the doctor ordered.
Out of the very few qualms I had with this film, the most prevalent is that of the ungodly amount of clichés. The Asian gang possesses all of the high-tech weaponry and a souped-up foreign car, whereas the Mexican gang possesses slightly inferior armaments and an ugly out-of-date car with obnoxious chrome rims. These apparent stereotypes are of course used to reinforce Walt’s undying feeling of angst towards those races other than his own, but I think the film manages to overdo it at points. It also doesn’t help that the aforementioned cast of amateurs deliver much less than memorable performances, despite the intentional casting choices.
All in all, Gran Torino is a great film. It exhibits a fair amount of great direction and screenwriting, accompanied by some truly humorous as well as heartfelt moments and a noteworthy performance from Eastwood. I’ll even go so far as to be redundant in saying it’s one of the best of 2008, despite some obvious jibes from others. It’s an awesome cinematic experience, and shouldn’t be missed, not even by you.