Rated R for language throughout, and some violence.
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Written By: Nick Schenk
Staring: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, Brian Howe, John Carroll Lynch, and Abney Her
I’ll blow a hole in your face then go inside and sleep like a baby. -Walt Kowalski
Why on earth wasn’t this acknowledged at the Academy Awards? I don’t usually agree with the snobbery of good ole Oscar, but how shamelessly this film was ignored is dumbfounding. It is in typical Clint Eastwood style as far as direction is concerned. It’s slow moving but so character driven that each scene has you completely enamored. The evolution of the story was so naturally compiled together the film almost felt slightly like voyeurism it became so honest and intimate at times. If anything Eastwood knows how to tell a story and make it fascinating. GranTorino was a provocative story that really had something to say. If it’s making you uncomfortable it’s doing it’s job.
The story begins with Walt Kowalski at the funeral of his wife. We are quickly privy to the distaste he has for his own family members that return the emotion in kind. Two sons that don’t understand him, and a daughter in law who thinks she has all the answers to just “fix” him, not to mention a spoiled rotten brat of a granddaughter makes it seem an easy choice for Walt to stay in the house he shared with is wife to spend his remaining years with only his dog as a companion. In complete solitude he finds himself more aware of the neighborhood, and the racial divides in it. What he doesn’t expect is to find himself in the middle of a gang war and an Asian families dispute.
Clint Eastwood’s performance is riveting. An angry and raging man, Eastwood makes it not only understanding, but something an audience could really empathize with. For the first time I really recognize him as an old man, but his character Walt Kowalski is such a stretch from who he is that is was staggering to watch his behavior. The racial slurs weren’t particularly shocking, though a lot of people seemed to find it pretty disturbing. A man of his age, that is literally living in two or three different generations that have since passed, somehow hasn’t managed to have noticed the world and the times were changing around him. Stagnant in his ways and completely dumbfounded by his strange surroundings when compared to what goes on in his own world where everything is safe, he is almost a relic in the neighborhood. He’s keeps to himself so long as you don’t step on his lawn.
Supporting roles were played out well. The neighbor girl Sue (Abney Her) was the only cast member that detracted from the film. Her delivery was stiff at times, making scenes a little less profound and steering away from the realism of it all. What she lacked in delivering her lines, she made up for with a genuine charm that made it no surprise that Walt seemed to be drawn to her. What I loved most about her character was that she really did bring out the gentle goodness of Walt. He may have been a harsh person, but Sue really helped break the barrier of humanizing him, which later her brother Thao (Bee Vang) continued to do. Christopher Carley really was what the story needed to retain it’s realism. When things seemed to get carried away, he would show up on Walt’s door as the voice of reason. Even though Walt rejected his idea’s, the contrast in point of view gave the movie a much more textured and in depth acknowledgement of the situation.
The most disturbing part of the story for me wasn’t the gang violence, or Eastwood’s racial comments, but the relationship with his sons and grandchildren. The disconnect in the generations, but even more so the coldness of each of their characters was ultimately the most depressing aspect of the story. Having a cold and detached father it was no surprise he raised two sons completely cut off from their father, but both also still desiring his acceptance. It also made you wonder what his wife must have been like, and what their relationship was like, since she was obviously the thing that made him as happy as he was capable of being.
This is one of the most interesting character studies I’ve watched in a long time. There is no extra flair to distract from the simple telling of the story, a time in a mans life that made as much change and self awareness as he was capable of. There was a melancholy theme throughout, but it’s honesty and it’s authentic take on the characters, make it somehow detached while at the same time incredibly personal. This was by far one of the better movies of 2008, and one of my favorites of Eastwood’s work in the last many years. Gran Torino is a movie everyone should see, no matter how agonizing it is to watch.