Gran Torino

Gran Torino

Film review by: Witney Seibold




            “Gran Torino” is an old-fashioned fable about old-fashioned values, made with an old-fashioned aesthetic. Its director/star, Clint Eastwood, was 78 years old when he made it, but I think it’s a respect for salt-of-the-earth working-class propriety, and not his age, that dictates the film’s tone. Most of Eastwood’s directorial efforts possess this quality, and often it works in his favor. Never has it been stronger in “Gran Tornio.”


            Eastwood plays Walk Kowalski, a Korean War veteran and a recent widower whose idea of a complete day involves mowing his lawn, sitting on the porch with a cooler full of beers next to his old dog, and perhaps spending a few hours tinkering on his prize possession: a 1972 Gran Tornio. His kids (Brian Haley and Brian Howe) are insufferable spoiled yuppies, and Walt is not shy about letting them know it. Indeed, Walt is not shy about much of anything; he freely speaks his mind, expresses every racist thought to go through his head (and there are a lot of them), and has no problem waving guns around when those goldarn kids dare to step on his lawn. He’s the kind of archetypal curmudgeon that inspired Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Meance.


            He actually says “Get off my lawn.”




            The menace kid in “Gran Torino” is an at-risk Hmong teenager named Thao (Bee Vang). Thao is a sensitive type who prefers gardening and tinkering over cruising for girls, drinking, and hanging out with his gang-member cousin Spider (Doua Moua). Spider, clearly trying to be the alpha male of his gang, incites Thao to steal Walt’s prize Gran Torino. Thao is not a very good thief, and Walt catches him in the act. Out of a sense of Hmong honor, Thao’s family (mostly represented by Thao’s firecracker sister Sue, played by first-timer Ahney Her) urge Walt, in exchange for the slight against him, to have Thao do a month’s worth of physical labor.


Film Review Gran Torino


            Walt, having lost a connection with his family, and having lost his wife, reluctantly begins to take Thao under his wing. He teaches him how to get a good, reliable construction job, how to talk to girls, and how to fling casual insults at buddies (the scene in which Walt and his barber, played by reliable character actor John Carroll Lynch, hurl racist epithets at one another, explaining to Thao “that’s just how real men talk to each other,” is priceless). Walt does not soften in the least (this is not a heart-softening kind of story), but you can see him slowly begin to care about this young boy, and, by extension, allow his beloved Detroit neighborhood to grow in a direction he likes. Walk becomes less and less racist (although he freely calls all the Hmong characters “gooks”), and eventually becomes a surrogate father to Thao.




            It’s hard to tell for much of “Gran Torino” if Eastwood is celebrating the abrasive old curmudgeon, or quietly poking fun at him. Seeing as how funny the film is, I’d say it’s more of the latter, but not without giving up respect for the “old world” way of living. Walt is a working-class dog with clear views of the world, and Eastwood wants to acknowledge that his views may be a bit dated, but that he is still a tough old hammer with a few more pounds left in him.


            Eastwood’s aforementioned old-fashioned style may infuriate some filmgoers, as it means that his stories tend to be paced a bit more slowly, the drama seems a bit more obvious, and the archetypes a bit more broadly drawn. These were not problems for me, however, as Eastwood is a skilled director who knows what kind of story he wants. In recent years, he has made great films like “Million Dollar Baby,” the Iwo Jima films, and “Mystic River.” The same year as “Gran Torino,” Eastwood directed the Academy Award-nominated film “Changeling.” It looks to me like Eastwood, even at 78, and clearly slowing down in storytelling, is still a touch old hammer with a few more hits left in him.

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 11:55 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have just finished watching it and started searching opinions on the web – this movie was awesome!! I think Clint really knows what is he doing. I was expecting something else (more action) but I fell in love with this movie…

  2. […] ::For a movie review of Gran Torino, link to Three Cheers for Darkened Years! here:: […]

  3. Clint Eastwood is one of my favorites. This film was bold as much of his work is. He seems to go against the current. I learn so much from him, just by watching his films.

    Did you see the special features of the “Changeling” DVD? There’s a interview with Angelina Jolie, she joked about working exclusively with Clint since his style of directing allows for her to feel at ease and consequently draws out some of her best work.

    I enjoyed your review. I’ll keep up with your work.

  4. This was indeed a great film. Clint Eastwood is definitely one of my favorites. I really enjoyed reading your article. He’s been in the business for a while so I was not surprised to see how good this film was.

    I am looking forward to watching Invictus! I did see the “Changeling” on DVD. The interview with Angelina Jolie impressed me very much. She mentioned that his directing style, very poised but calm–eliminates tension off the set and allows her to bring out her best work. I tell you what…I can only dream of working with Clint someday, but I need a miracle for that!

    Thanks for your review…

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