Gran Torino (2008)


Still planning for this Valentine’s weekend?  How about a date movie?  Wait, guys, don’t run away.  This one’s for you.

I hate to read movie reviews with the tag line “Bring tissues”.   Half of our demographics would clearly stay away.  But what with a movie entitled “Gran Torino” starring Clint Eastwood?  Will it scare away the other half?  I’m here to ensure you all girlfriends, wives and future wives, it’s safe.  You won’t be bombarded with ear-piercing explosions and car crashes, or gratuitous adrenalin pumping violence, but there are engrossing moments that both of you will find meaningful.

Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a hardened and critical old man who has just lost his wife.   Walt Kowalski is Dirty Harry in his 70’s.  He hasn’t lost any of his macho madness.  Adding oil to the fire, he is one growling racist, and he makes his feelings known to all who cross his path, specifically, his new neighbors, a Hmong family originally from Laos.

The 1972 Gran Torino Walt owns and treats with great care is what the teenager next door has to steal under coercion as an act of gang initiation.  That night begins the series of events  that change the lives of these two households.

What’s interesting to watch is how Walt Kowalski’s antagonistic fervor is diverted into a protective mode, when the teenagers next door are bullied by gangs.  Here the spirit of Dirty Harry rises to the occasion.  Taking the teenage boy Thao (Bee Vang) under his wings, he begins to connect and even come to treasure a bond that he subtly strives to build up.

Contributing to the otherwise simple storyline is the  internal exploration of Walt’s tormented inner world.  He encounters his nemesis in the young Catholic priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), who has promised Walt’s wife that he would come check on him after she’s gone.  The movie efficiently makes the best use of these two character foils.  The innocent and naive versus the disgruntled skeptic.  It’s gratifying to see how both of them change over the course of events.  And it’s utterly moving to watch the slow process of one man’s ultimate search for redemption in the context of a beleaguered society riddled with hatred and racism.

Eastwood is by far the most experienced actor here.  In contrast, the young ones pale in their performance.  However, this is in a way realistic, for who wouldn’t be intimidated by such a formidable neighbor.  And yet, the movie excels in its delivery of a message, or two, so poignantly, it catches you off guard.

The multi-talented Eastwood here directs, acts, and composes the music.  He has crafted a powerful and moving piece of entertainment.  If you’re not too critical about the language, or a few simplistic stereotyping, this is one movie that can certainly make your day.

~ ~ ~ Ripples