January 24, 2009

"Gran Torino" -- Movie Review

More and more I'm convinced I was in right in a thought I had four years ago: Clint Eastwood is a modern John Ford. That is to say, much like the forgotten great, his style is subtle and surprisingly touching. Unlike Danny Boyle with “Slumdog Millionaire,” Eastwood feels no need to pull out the stops. You'll find no wild cuts, zooming camera movements or any other flashy stylistic choices. Eastwood prefers to sit his camera down and let the characters and story do all the heavy lifting.

Don't get me wrong, “Slumdog Millionaire” is still one of the best films of the year. And another is “Gran Torino.”

Eastwood paints a subtle, complicated and incredibly moving portrait about a man who is far from ready for his generation to hand over the reigns of the world. He doesn't understand what the fast-paced, spoiled, lazy rabble the present generation -- including his own family -- has to offer.

With his increasingly concave features, grizzled expressions and unmistakable growl, Eastwood dominates the screen. This is the meanest we have ever seen Eastwood. It's also the best we've ever seen him, acting wise. A bittersweet landmark, as Eastwood has since announced that he is retiring from acting.

For those who still don't know, “Gran Torino” is about Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) a Korean War veteran who, after his wife dies, is left alone and embittered against... well, people in general. To top it all off, his neighborhood consists largely of Hmong (an ethnic group hailing from Southeast Asia), which irks Walt to no end.

After he inadvertently saves a young boy next door, Thao (Bee Vang), from a local gang one night, Walt finds himself inundated with unwanted attention. Thao's sister, Sue (Anhey Her), begins to realize -- along with the rest of us -- that Walt, while spouting slurs left and right, is really anything but a racist. He's just an old man who is disappointed with the entire human race, and doesn't care much about the decorum of political correctness.

As the movie progresses, a friendship begins to form between Walt and his neighbors. Despite whatever else happens in the movie, these three are the core. It is to the credit of both Bee Vang and Anhey Her that they manage to shine, even while being encased in the shadow of Eastwood's performance.

Eastwood outdoes himself with every film he directs, his work growing more textured and vibrant with each passing year. It must be said that, even at 78, he shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. For the second year in a row, he has managed to put out two movies a year, while directors half his age do well if they crank out one.

For those who point to Eastwood's retirement from acting as a sure sign of the mega-talent starting to slow, I counter with this: It is my belief that he is retiring from acting so he can bump his quota to three films a year.

Mark my words, the only thing stopping this guy is death, and from what I saw in "Gran Torino," Clint could probably make the reaper crap his pants and move right along to the next person. Masterpiece!

/ 5

Walt Kowalski is not racist.

It may be easy to confuse him with the like, what with the constant stream of ethnic epithets he issues forth to anyone who pauses in front of him for too long. As my former room mates and I often said, old guys can do whatever they want. And Walt doesn't want to mince words. So yeah, maybe he buys into stereotypes, but he also gives credit where it's due... it's just that most of the people in his life haven't earned shit. And nothing hacks a man off more then dumbass entitlement.

"Gran Torino," which I totally knew beforehand was also the name of a car, is a film about people that the world doesn't want. Specifically, Walt and Thao.

Walt's family -- his two sons and their respective families -- don't see him as a person. To them, he's more like leftovers. Grumpy, gravely leftovers. A relic of a world that doesn't exist anymore. Utterly dismissible. As we grow to know the man, we see this callousness of those who should be closest to him as utterly terrible. And yet, these aren't terrible people. They're normal... which may be the most horrible part of all.

Thao is also dismissed by his family. Quiet and introverted, he's easily pushed around by pretty much everyone, from his well-meaning sister to his bastard cousin Spider (Doua Moua). After Spider and his gang 'protect' Thao from the bullying of another, Hispanic gang, he pushes Thao to join them. The initiation: steal the Gran Torino.

With Sue as the catalyst, Walt and Thao strike up an odd relationship. Walt finds family for the first time -- not counting his departed wife, whose funeral opened the film -- and Thao learns how to be a man... though Walt's teaching methods are far from orthodox. His teaching Thao "how men talk," with help from his barber (John Carroll Lynch) was absolutely hilarious.

Actually, there was a lot of humor in "Gran Torino," even among the grit and harshness and sadness and drama.

Not to be pigeonholed, "Gran Torino" is a movie about life and death and rebirth. It's about the things we should pass on and the things we should learn. It's about the meaning of being a man, and of family. It's about sweet, American-made muscle car.

5 / 5

Do not miss this movie.

-Thad out.


Sara Walls said...

Can you BELEIVE that this wasn't nominated for an Oscar?!?!?!

Thaddeus Stoklasa said...

I cannot.
And you're talking to a guy who actually believes a man can fly.

Jeremiah Sherman said...

I am also outraged. Not even so much as a Best Actor nomination, or Best Orignal Song!

I'm also a little peeved that none of the actors/actresses from "Slumdog Millionaire" got nominated. Sadly though, that was predicatble.