Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.
Have you ever seen that old Clint Eastwood flick, The Outlaw Josie Wales? Gran Torino is pretty much the same movie sort of in reverse, complete with Olympic-caliber spitting, gang violence, copious racial epithets and pantomime gunplay. Gran Torino is set 140 years later and Mr. Eastwood has only gotten older*, wiser and more grizzled. Do I have to tell you he’s still mad-dog mean?
Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a retired Ford assemblyman who recently lost his wife and he’s pissed off at the world. Well, I guess his wife’s death didn’t have anything to do with it – he’s been pissed off since at least the 50s. Walt – excuse me, Mr. Kowalksi – doesn’t take much crap from anybody, so you can imagine that his lazy children don’t have much use for him, and he has even less use for them. He also doesn’t have much use for minorities of any kind, including but not limited to “Wops, Krauts, Eyeties, Gippos, Bubbles, Froggies, Chinks, Yidds, Jocks, Paddies, Dagoes, those dirty, dirty Belgians”** and especially the Hmong that have “taken over” his neighborhood. It doesn’t help matters when Tao – “Toad” as Walt calls him – tries to steal his cherry 1972 Gran Torino Sport. At the insistence of his sister, Soo, Tao will gradually work off the offense doing chores under Walt’s critical eye. Wouldnjaknowit, Soo and Tao also gradually work their way into Walt’s crusty old heart.
The problem is that the old neighborhood has also been taken over by gangs. “Spook” gangs, “Wetback” gangs, Hmong gangs, etc. etc. and trouble is a-brewin’. Luckily, Korean War vet Walt knows how to deal with a bully. He keeps a cool head and a lot his strategy revolves around pointing his finger at them and saying BANG (much like Chuck Norris, who shot down a German plane in a similar fashion). Don’t worry, he uses his fists and plenty of real fire arms too. To watch Eastwood walk around being pissed off is always fun, regardless of which variation of tough guy he’s playing, and it’s very fun in Gran Torino. You will root for this loveable racist old codger.
Gran Torino is pretty good. It’s also pretty funny. Marketing for the film hasn’t touched on that aspect of the script, but there are more than handful of genuinely funny moments, not the least of which is a series of scenes in which Walt teaches Tao to “man up.” I also enjoyed Walt’s banter with rookie priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley): “I heards there was some trouble in the neighborhood. Why didn’t you call the police?” “Well, Father, I prayed for them to come, but nobody answered.”
So yeah, it’s pretty good, but there’s a reason it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. It’s no The Good, The Bad or the Ugly or The Outlaw Josie Wales. It’s also not Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby. The script is very well-written (its author clearly had Eastwood in mind) and it never gets boring. Despite many many many racial slurs, the movie is not offensive nor is it overly preachy in its message seeing past racial boundaries. It stumbles a little in Soo’s dialog. The ending is telegraphed from frame one, but hey, it’s a good ending so why gripe?
Bee Vang who plays Tao and Ahney Her’s Soo are fine. Just “fine.” It’s not Vang’s fault, but I very much wanted to give his character a haircut. He kinda reminds me of my cousin, Kyle. But of course, this is Eastwood’s movie. His character is so crotchety it flirts with caricature, but he’s just so darn fun to watch! I’d like to see Eastwood and Samuel L. Jackson in a contest to see who can get pissed off the most in a 2-hour feature.
Did I mention Eastwood sings over the closing credits? Oh yeah. Worth the price of admission right there.
*His old-man pants are creeping higher on his waist as well. Check out the poster.
**I don’t even know what people group half of these slurs are referring to. Where have I been?