Gran Torino Directed by: Clint Eastwood Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sue Lor, Bee Vang Running Time: 2 hrs Rating: R
Plot: A retired and newly widowed Korean war veteran becomes a grand father-figure to two neighboring Hmong teenagers trying to escape the violence of a local gang.
Who’s It For? Fans of Eastwood's magnetism need to see this. The film's genuine quality is open to anyone, particularly those who want to feel refreshed by an award worthy experience that isn't adapted from some previous literary form.
Expectations: Less than a year ago, the title Gran Torino was rumored to be that of a new Dirty Harry sequel. But when a trailer for this film was finally released, it appeared this film would be something more important.
Actors: Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski: Is this character the penultimate of Eastwood? Here, he spits like Josey Wales, growls like Sgt. Thomas Highway, (Heartbreak Ridge), confronts punks like Dirty Harry, and has the rough tenderness seen in his latest roles. On top of this, the heart Eastwood buries under so many layers of bitter hatred makes him astronomically engrossing. I haven't been this fascinated with a performance since There Will Be Blood's Daniel Plainview. Score: 10
Ahney Her as Sue Lor: As the sister to troublesome Thao, she meets Kowalski's attitude toe-to-toe and plays off him well (even though this is Ahney Her's first film). Sue's an amiable guide through Hmong culture, and educates Kowalski and the film's audience alike about the universal theme of humanity. Score: 8
Bee Vang as Thao Vang Lor: Vang's lack of on-camera experience is visible due to stiff acting. Eastwood is able to cover this up when the two share a scene. However, the first-timer's shoddy performance doesn't hinder the film's effectiveness, considering Thao is a main force behind Kowalski's change of heart.
Talking: Kowalski's incredible racism is ethnically all encompassing. Basically, no group is spared by his offensive prickly mutterings and name-callings. However, Eastwood portrays Kowalski in a way that primarily aims to alert the film's audience of his wrongful yet embedded hatred. The bigotry actually becomes humorous because of its ridiculousness. It's questionable if this would be the case were these lines not delivered by someone as undeniably badass as Clint Eastwood.
Sights: With this film, the cinematography takes a back seat to the script. Visually, Gran Torino presents its drab Michigan setting as plainly as possible - letting its inhabitants add the color. Mostly impressive is the amount of Pabst Blue Ribbon that Kowalski imbibes throughout the film. With that amount, he could probably drink an entire fraternity under a table - and then make them clean his house.
Sounds: Kyle Eastwood co-scores the film, though his directing father reduces the general presence of music heard throughout Gran Torino. Jazz pianist Jamie Cullum co-writes with Clint the beautiful title song that plays during the credits. If the narrative power of Gran Torino is ignored by the Oscars, one can hope at least its song won't be.
Best Scene: There are too many scenes of either ageless badassness or surprising compassion to just pick one.
Ending: Walt, pushed to the edge by more violence in his neighborhood, has a final showdown with the gang. The film's ending is a pleasing finale to the story, with an emotional poignancy that's all Eastwood.
Questions: Only one: Is this my favorite movie of 2008?
Rewatchability: Eastwood is magnificent to watch, especially when working with a great story. I want to see this again, ASAP. Hell, I might even buy the poster.
As a director, Clint Eastwood proves that no narrative territory is out of his reach. Characters and cultures that may appear foreign to him are easily incorporated into his recent goal of teaching his audiences emotional lessons of a high caliber. Using bigotry, gang violence, and youth, Eastwood has crafted another resonant film with trademark tenderness that is as fulfilling as it is effective.
A powerful starring vehicle helmed by a master of Hollywood, Gran Torino is one of the best films of the year.
Final Score: 9/10