**** (out of 5)
January 9, 2009
Clint Eastwood as WALT KOWALSKI
Christopher Carley as FATHER JANOVICH
Bee Vang as THAO VANG LOR
Ahney Her as SUE LOR
Brian Haley as MITCH KOWALSKI
Geraldine Hughes as KAREN KOWALSKI
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
You’ve gotta hand it to Clint Eastwood. Not only does he usually make a good film, for the most part, he also manages to get a lot of buzz for his movies. And recently, he’s been hitting us up with a one-two punch of movies at the end of the year, both for award consideration.
His first award film of this year was “Changeling,” which garnered tons of early buzz but petered off once the film was released. I blame Angelina Jolie a bit for this because she seemed a bit desperate, acting her guts out in the film. It was such a blatant award grab.
“Gran Torino” is different. Sure, it’s gotten plenty of good buzz, and those who were lucky enough to see it before the end of 2008 generally gave it very favorable reviews. But even more than the plot, the story or even the movie, Eastwood’s own performance as the crotchety yet lovable old racist was what got the most attention.
The film follows a Korean War veteran named Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) who has just lost his wife. He’s left alone in a deteriorating neighborhood, and he’s upset about how the immigrants seem to be taking over the town. However, after intervening in a confrontation at the neighbors, he befriends a Hmong family next door and eventually takes up their fight against a gang element threatening them.
Like “Million Dollar Baby,” this film is a solid drama, but it is loaded with humor and light moments, even in the fact of some intense scenes. And leave it to Clint Eastwood to manage to make a bitter racist adorable. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll recognize the “Get off my lawn!” scene, which is worth the price of admission alone.
A lot of this film has been done before, but that doesn’t stop the familiar elements from being enjoyable. We’ve all seen the story of the codger with a heart of gold. We’ve all seen the movies about immigrants trying to retain their culture. We’ve also seen all the movies with gangs and revenge plots. However, Eastwood manages to include elements we haven’t seen, or scenes so steeped in political incorrectness that it’s somewhat refreshing to watch on screen.
I wouldn’t call “Gran Torino” one of the best films of 2008, and it didn’t make my top ten list, but it was enjoyable to watch, and I couldn’t help admire the characters. If you’ve had the old grandfather or uncle from a different generation who didn’t worry about being politically correct, you should find some familiarity with which you can identify.
There has been a lot of buzz about Eastwood’s performance as well, partly fueled by speculation that this will be his last. And that might be possible, considering he’s about 108 years old. So if this is going to be his acting swan song, he could do a lot worse.
“Gran Torino” is definitely worth the buzz, and while it’s not for everyone, it’s still a strong film and a great way for Clint to end the year.