"Throughout his illustrious acting career, Clint Eastwood has delivered a series of iconic characters, such as The Man with no name, Dirty Harry, Josie Wales, and Will Munny in Unforgiven.
Throughout his illustrious directing career he has delivered outstanding movies such as Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby, for which he has won five Academy Awards, for best Picture, Best Director, and including the Irving Thalberg Life Achievement Award.
The actors who have worked with him have been blessed with Oscar: Gene Hackman for Unforgiven, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn for Mystic River, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby.
In Gran Torino he both directs and acts, and delivers an acting performance that will be remembered long after the final credits roll, in its unique way, as memorable as any other character he has created.
Gran Torino is the second best movie I have seen this year. Not just for the acting, not just for the directing, but for the storytelling, and the emotional journey on which it takes you, the laughter, the feeling of being gripped, and its more surprising moments.
In the opening scenes, we have the exposition of the character. We get to know Walt Kowalski, by how people act around him, and his seemingly hateful attitude towards people. More is conveyed through a scowl, and a snarl than with words. When the mischievous grandchildren go through his stuff in the basement, we see the Silver Star he won in Korea. There are three other important symbols in the movie, the lighter, the gun, and the car.
We see a hero with a warrior past, a patriot who fought for a cause greater than himself. Clearly, his bigotry stems from those experiences.
He's not just mean, he's 'get of my lawn' mean. He's Dirty Harry 'Go ahead punk, make my day!,' mean.
His dead wife's priest bugs him to hear his confession, at her request. The priest in a way is his wife's conscience.
When he snarls down the barrel of his rifle, at the neighborhood punk: 'I could blow your head off, and sleep like a baby,' you get the sense that he means it.
So, with all that happens, we see the change in his decision making, from someone reluctant to be involved in his neighbor's affairs, and a story can turn on something as random as looking at an empty beer cooler.
For all his faults, Walt has mature masculine character. Even though he is a difficult father, he has taught his children character. So, when he sees the boy next door lacks character, and a strong male role model, he takes him under his wing, and teaches him how to be a man.
The scenes where the boy practises Walt's high octane ball busting banter, are the funniest in the movie. Through knowing Walt, he makes decisions he never would have made by himself. In so doing, Walt finds meaning and purpose, and a chance for redemption, and the boy becomes a man.
The Academy's actor awards tend to go to actors in two types of role:
1.Psychopath- No Country for Old Men, The Usual Suspects, There Will Be Blood, Training Day, Silence of the Lambs.
2.Mentally Disabled, Social or Physical Handicap, overcomes great adversity or discrimination- Shine, As Good as It Gets, A Beautiful Mind, Ray, Scent of a Woman, Capote, Philadelphia, The Pianist, A Beautiful Life.
Every rule has an exception. Russell Crowe in Gladiator played a character with thematic similarities to Walt.
For a 78 year old man to direct and be lead actor in a movie of this caliber is an achievement worthy at the very least of being nominated for the highest award for Acting, Directing or both.
I hope you find this review helpful.
A Better Movie about Racism than "Crash"
Erik R. Olson | Dublin, CA, United States | 01/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"People react strongly to "Gran Torino," either embracing its depiction of a flawed but heroic racist old coot, or deriding the movie simply because its apparent political incorrectness makes them nervous. But even if the Academy does not bestow one award on what is probably Clint Eastwood's last movie as an actor, remember this: "Gran Torino" is a more intelligent film on the state of race relations today than "Crash" (a multiple Oscar winner) ever pretended to be.
The story is about Walt Kowalski, a grizzled Korean War vet and widower who spends his time drinking, smoking, and polishing his 1972 Ford Gran Torino, a vintage example of Detroit muscle. Because he installed the car's steering column himself, the car represents not only a classically American fixation on the automobile, but also a blue-collar, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps work ethic, one that Eastwood himself would no doubt agree with. (If for some reason you don't believe me, read his "What I've Learned" interview in the latest issue of Esquire.)
Kowalski mentors an aimless Hmong teenager named Thao, who is being pressured to join his cousin's gang. This is where the "Karate Kid" comparison comes in, which is inaccurate, partly because the characters of "Gran Torino" exhibit considerably greater depth. The boy who plays Thao (and in fact all of the Hmong characters) is not a professional actor, so although his portrayal is sometimes rather wooden, there really isn't any substitute for authenticity. Eastwood came of age in an era when Hollywood produced war movies using, say, a Chinese actor to portray a Japanese soldier. It's clear from the casting of "Gran Torino" (and "Letters from Iwo Jima," for that matter) that Eastwood prefers to do things his own way.
Kowalski makes fun of Thao (calling him "Toad"), but also teaches the boy how to earn an honest living. In the process, he becomes closer to Thao's family than he is to any of his own kin, who have degenerated into a distant, crass, materialistic clan of their own, far removed from the values Kowalski attempted to pass on.
The steady stream of racist epithets in "Gran Torino" will cause some people to laugh uncomfortably, others to laugh with delight, and still another group to glare at those who are laughing. Ultimately, however, this unsettling portrayal of one man's deep prejudices evolves into a different story altogether. It is not possible to show the audience a path away from a racist mentality without showing honestly where that mentality came from--a feat which "Crash," in spite of its heavy-handed moralizing, never came close to pulling off."
There's So Much We Can Learn from Each Other
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 12/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Can Clint Eastwood go wrong? After striking gold a few months ago with the brilliant "Changeling," he releases "Gran Torino," another one of the year's best films. What a masterful storyteller Eastwood is, so focused on creating that perfect balance between story and character. He doesn't disappoint with "Gran Torino," a nearly flawless film that gives us characters we believe in and a story so compelling that it's virtually impossible to not be absorbed by it. What we have here is a cross-generational, cross-cultural story about people who can learn so much from each other despite being different. It's about regret, sadness, redemption, and growth, which isn't to say that it's conventional or archetypal; Eastwood plays a contemporary version of a Wise Old Man, someone who draws on life experience to teach an undeveloped youth. What's unique is that, regardless of what life has taught him, this Wise Old Man still has a lot to learn.
He has a name, of course: retired Ford factory worker Walt Kowalski. As a veteran of the Korean War, Kowalski has seen and done a lot of things he wishes he hadn't. He's bitter, antisocial, and politically incorrect. After his wife's funeral, we discover that he doesn't get along too well with his sons, specifically Mitch (Brian Haley) and his wife, Karen (Geraldine Hughes), who seem to believe that his age automatically makes him codependent and eligible for a spot in a retirement home. His grandchildren don't appreciate him one bit; the granddaughter only wants his stuff, hand-me-downs to take with her to school. They don't make things easy for him, but then again, he doesn't make things easy for them, either. It's a vicious cycle of resentment and miscommunication.
As this is being established, we're introduced to a teenage boy named Thao (Bee Vang), who lives next door to Kowalski with his large Hmong family. He's the black sheep of his deeply traditional family, always doing chores that the women are supposed to do. Having no direction in life, he's pressured by his cousin, nicknamed Spider (Doua Moua), to join his neighborhood gang. As an act of initiation, Thao must sneak into Kowalski's garage and steal his most prized possession: A 1972 Gran Torino. The attempt backfires. Some time later, Spider arrives with his posse and tries to abduct Thao. The resulting scuffle is broken up when Kowalski points his shotgun at the gang members and demand they get off his lawn.
Within no time at all, Kowalski's front steps are covered with tokens of appreciation from Thao's family, none of which go appreciated. But then Kowalski gets to know Thao's sister, Sue (Ahney Her), a remarkably independent young woman. Quick-witted and outgoing, she takes Kowalski's racial slurs in stride, believing that a good man lies behind the disgruntled façade. As he spends more time with Sue and her family, he begins to realize that he has more in common with them that with his own family, which, in all likelihood, scares him more than it brings him comfort.
When Thao formally apologizes for trying to steal Kowalski's Gran Torino, Kowalski puts him to work doing various chores, like repainting a house and fixing gutters. Hardly a scene goes by when he isn't verbally berating Thao, although it's obvious from the start that he's doing it to toughen him up, to make him believe that his life has a purpose and that he should actively be trying to find it. Part of this involves getting Thao to talk like a man. There's a priceless scene in which Kowalski brings Thao to a barber, who has been sharing insults with Kowalski for a number of years. Afterwards, Kowalski arranges for Thao to work at a construction site; the boss, as it turns out, is the perfect man for Thao to test his new vocabulary on. What Kowalski doesn't realize is that he's learning just as much from Thao, especially in matters of caring for other people. Eventually, Kowalski comes to the conclusion that Thao and his family will never be at peace so long as Spider and his gang are around.
The film's most fascinating character is Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), a twenty-seven year old priest who promised Kowalski's wife that he'd look after him upon her death and get him to confess. Initially, Kowalski wants nothing to do with Janovich, who gives sermons on matters of life and death yet has no real idea what it means to face your own mortality. Kowalski knows--he served his country in Korea. "What do you know about life?" Janovich calmly asks. "Well," says Kowalski, "I survived the war. I got married and had a family." There's absolutely no joy in his voice when he says this. Gradually, he begins to appreciate Janovich; he many not have all the answers, but at least he's willing to listen.
The brilliance of this movie comes not from the development of the characters, but from the way the characters interact with one another. Virtually no one is on friendly terms at the start, but by the end, there's an understated feeling that respect has been earned on all sides. Kowalski refers to Thao as his friend only once, and while it was nice to actually hear it, it still didn't come as a surprise given everything that had been leading to that moment. At a certain point, you just knew how Kowalski felt. "Gran Torino" is such a wonderful film, so carefully structured, so perfectly cast, so rewarding for the audience. To make just one great film in a year is the mark of real talent. But to make two great films in the same year, now that's the work of genius."
Powerful, emotional film that's bigger than the sum of its p
SteppingRZA | USA | 04/15/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Some have criticized "Gran Torino" as being too simple, cliched and hurt by the performances of the film's first-time actors. But this is one of those rare movies that's bigger than the sum of its parts. In recent years, I have yet to see a film that managed to get both men and women to cry. And that it would provoke such strong emotions is not evident until the last act. It may seem simple and cliched on the surface, and while I knew that Clint Eastwood's character Walt would eventually warm up to his Hmong neighbors, I didn't expect that the movie would also have me, a guy who doesn't cry at movies, wiping my eyes. And not just once, but the three other times I saw the film at the theater. And I heard other people crying at every viewing. Each time I viewed it, it was just as powerful, if not more. Walt is an old, bitter racist, who just about hates everyone, including the young pastor who visits him regularly at the request of Walt's late wife, and his own children and their families. On paper, the story seems simple, but its power is hard to deny. It's part drama, part comedy, part tale of one man's racist surface, but as the credits roll, you realize that the power of the movie, the emotional buttons it pushes, make this a movie that rises above the acting, above its direction, above its script, to make something deeper and emotionally touching than most would have expected. There are subtle touches and small scenes that any other director would not have folded into the film. And they do go by like a breeze for the most part. They'll have you laughing, smiling or shaking your head. And it's good that Eastwood's character does not make a complete (and unrealistic) 360 degree turn, as you see in most American movies. And given what Eastwood has delivered in most of his movies, most notably as Dirty Harry and his various Westerns, you expect a big showdown to come, and that showdown does come, but not with the ending you expect. Eastwood has made powerful movies before, but this one really seemed to touch the core of many people, across many age groups, and racial/ethnic designations. On a side note, Eastwood has also done what so many Hollywood studios and filmmakers choose not to do, which is portray Asian-Americans as regular, everyday people, living in America. That's no small feat, as most Hollywood studios go out of their way to not cast Asian-Americans and not show the lives of Asian-Americans. They rather change the race of the characters, even when they're basing a movie on a real-life story about Asian-American people, or offer easy, ignorant stereotypes. Eastwood only deserves credit, because it's something that should have been done decades ago. And while this movie may not get much kudos from the snobby critics in the big film world, it has a emotional pull that even some recent Eastwood movies don't have. It may not have won any big awards, but it's a movie I plan on watching for years to come."
David A. Dein | The Garden State | 02/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I hope that in 30 years someone decides to remake Gran Torino. Hopefully it will be a shot-by-shot remake like 1998's Psycho, or maybe someone tries to do a direct homage to it, or maybe a Japanese remake or didn't they make a Turkish version of Star Wars? I really don't care how they remake it. I just want to prove how masterfully Eastwood breathes life into a story that in wrong hands could be a melodramatic mess, or a bad Sitcom.
Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a guy missing his decade, he still lives in the home he raised his family in, even though the rest of the neighborhood disappeared years ago. His home is still painted while the homes around him fall apart. The post-war suburban paradise that once was is long gone replaced by gangs, crime, and the Hmong immigrants who have replaced his former white-bread neighbors.
Kowalski has lived a life of hard work and maybe a little regret. He's a decorated Korean War Vet, a husband who's just buried his wife, and a father that has lost touch with his sons. Don't get him started on his bratty Grandkids who want him to die so they get his stuff including a sweet 1972 Gran Torino. Kowalski is a man who poured his heart and soul into a country who doesn't need him anymore and a family that is ready to send him off to Boca to die. Everything changes when he catches his neighbor trying to steal his Gran Torino, and he is introduced into a world that just might let him get the redemption he so desperately needs.
Eastwood has crafted a beautiful film that is honest. With an approach that is so matter of fact and never over sentimental. In the wrong hands this could translate as boring. Yet Eastwood finds a way to make the film real without boring us. It's funny when it needs to be funny, gripping when it needs to grip, and emotional without being overtly emotional. Kowalski exists in the real world, he's abrasive, he's angry, he drinks, smokes, chews tobacco and has lived long enough to not have that politically correct filter that everyone in my generation was issued at birth. He built the world with his bare hands and wishes that people we're polite, kids respected their elders, and is tired of taking crap from everyone. But it's not because he's a monster and Eastwood instills a warmth in Kowalski that drives the film forward.
The supporting cast works because they are real kids. Newcomer Ahney Her deserves notice as Sue, a smart plucky kid that Kowalski aids and Bee Vang hits the right marks as Thao, Sue's brother who Kowalski takes under his wing. Eastwood doesn't ask for gut-wrenching performances from these two kids, only honesty and that's why they work. When the climax hits it's apex Eastwood doesn't ask his cast to react as characters in a movie, but as regular kids.
Gran Torino is not what I expected, it's not Dirty Harry meets Grumpy Old Men. It's a powerful film that sneaks up on you and pulls you along. At any moment it could have been shallow, at any moment it could have been melodramatic, and at any moment we could have hated Kowalski. Trust me there is plenty not to like about this guy, but Eastwood shows us his frustrations, and emotions not by acting them out, but by being real and by giving Kowalski a warmth we don't expect.
Gran Torino makes me wish I had treasured the moments I could have had with my Grandfather. It also challenges me to reach out even If I don't want to. Gran Torino is not about telling a fake story about redemption, it's about real people with real problems and how they find within themselves the power to take responsibility for their lives and in that they find the strength to overcome what life has dealt them. Gran Torino will not change the world but it may make you look at your fellow man with a little more compassion."