Gran Torino (2008)

Dir. Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood

I think Jill, Penny and Don would enjoy this the most. Other idiots will find this entertaining, although not exceptional. Larri gave this a 6.

When I saw clips to this, I thought; “a reverse Karate Kid, and that’s not that far off the mark. A crusty old widower, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), gets entangled with his Hmong neighbors, particuarly a young girl, Sue (Ahney Her) and her younger brother, Thao (Bee Vang)–when he inadvertently helps them against a Hmong gang.

Clint Eastwood has one of the greatest faces in cinema; no one will equal the toughness in that iconic stare. In this film, Eastwood brings that look in it’s full on Dirty Harry mode. The surprise was that he’s also channeling Archie Bunker–to pretty good comedic effect. The panache with which Eastwood unleashes a torrent of racial epithets is up to par with Carol O’Connor. That’s the good part of the film.

Now, I know I can be overly critical, but I bet most of you will think this is moderately entertaining, but not great. So why is that? I think there are several reasons. First, I think the acting is somewhat limited. One of the challenges in this film is the way this cantankerous man will somehow connect with his neighbors. The movie doesn’t take a false step, until the crucial scene where Walt and Sue talk in the truck, after Walt rescues her from thugs. The chemistry between the two actors is lacking, imo. And Ahney Her’s acting seems forced. Part of the problem is with the writing of the scene, which is centers around Sue’s explanation of Hmong culture. The dialogue seems canned, a bad lesson of the white man on Hmong customs. It feels like the filmmakers are trying to teach the audience.

But that’s really a minor problem. The bigger problem has to do with the ending, which seems pretty good on paper, but it’s missing the guts to make the scene work. I think part of the reason is that Walt, as a character, his past, his inner life and the movement of this throughout the film, don’t really tie in with the final resolution. Consequently, the ending seems hollow, when it should be full of feeling. Part of this could be due to Eastwood’s acting, which was never the type that could convey complex emotions. (Think if Robert DuVall played the role. Of course, Duvall wouldn’t be a match for Eastwood in the tough guy department.) The writing could also have something to do with it, too. They could have explored more of Walt’s past and his psychological progression in the film.

All in all, it was great to see the spark of Dirty Harry flicker. I felt wistful, as if this were the last time I’d say this persona–something that is completely sui generis; something we’ll never see again in film.

Saw Gran Torino a couple of nights ago. It was exactly what I thought it would be. If Slumdog Millionaire is a symbol of Obama’s optimism, Torino might be seen as the last gasp of an old-world mentality. I’m wondering how many white Americans feel like Eastwood’s character on some level or another.

The movie was competently acted. Nothing spectacular on that end. Eastwood was great. The tension was great. And the ending was well-rendered. And hopefully not symbolic of anything, yeah?

Also saw Appaloosa last night at the dollar theater. I’m not a huge fan of Westerns. And this movie doesn’t really change my opinion much. Renee Zellweger is much more suited to comedies, in my opinion. The lead actors were good, their friendship was humorous and believable. Other than that, though, it was simply a fairly decent movie. No real action. No real reaction.

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