Gran Torino (2008)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 8:46 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

GRAN TORINO (2008) - Clint Eastwood

After a four year hiatus in the acting department, film legend Clint Eastwood has finally returned to the big screen -- once again relying on a heavy foreign cast to tell his story, directing and acting at the same time. One thing is for certain: Now that Eastwood has grown into an elder resolute man, when he sits on his porch and tells you to get off of his lawn, he means it.

Gran Torino revolves around Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a Korean War veteran who alienates himself from the rest of the world, grumpy and angry. After his Hmong neighbor, Thao, is pressured to steal his 1972 Ford Gran Torino, Walt finds himself tangled into a Vietnamese gang's affairs. In addition, he begins developing a peculiar relationship with Thao and his family.

The film settles in its own environment within the first twenty minutes, an impressive feat for filmmakers today. Director Eastwood proves that he is still capable of immersing us into a simple setting, while metaphorically portraying a larger entity. In Gran Torino's case, the film may take place in a single neighborhood, but its plot and themes are involved in a certain culture entirely. Though Gran Torino is not Eastwood's best film, it is definitely his grittiest, and that may inspire several audiences to favor this entry more in his filmography.

Eastwood's Walt is a very complicated character, and there are moments where you are meant to dislike him as well as moments where you cannot help but like him. He has his own set of beliefs, his own philosophy, and if anyone does not go with it, he detaches himself. Crabby? Sure. Pitiful? Possibly as well. Though an old man, Walt still has the energy. Frankly, the script did not truly fit in Walt's shoes until around halfway when his relationship with Thao begins.

Thao is portrayed by Bee Vang, and this is his first and only film in which he ever acted. Here, his "rookie-ness" definitely shows. Not annoying, but possibly cheesy, and  one can tell that he never had training in the acting department. Fortunately though, the plot is big and involving enough that Vang never needed to carry the film on his shoulders. He is a little defect that is wandering around the side. When the scene focuses on him only, it has no raw power. However, if he is assisted by Eastwood, then it works. The best supporting character here resides in Sue, Thao's older sister. In the screen duo's initial stages of being around together, Walt cannot stand Thao, but they both end up obligated because of Sue, who pushes for a connection to be made. If it wasn't for her, the film's second act would have dragged and the narrative progression would have diminished.

With a large cast that mainly consists of Hmong descent actors, Gran Torino is another prime example of Eastwood being experienced in handling foreign actors. He has done it before in Letters from Iwo Jima, and he tries it again here. Not as good as we have seen him before, but still inevitably admirable.

The plot is inevitably predictable, where you can guess how the film ends. But like any other grand drama, Gran Torino manages to stay original by offering refreshing surprises in the middle. The ending you may know, but the real question is how does the film reach the ending, and that is probably the most brilliant component about Gran Torino.

The biggest problem with the film, though, is the fact that it is still arguably uninteresting, with unintentional funny moments and unstable tones in storytelling. One scene is hilarious, another is immediately melodramatic. In the end, the screenwriting is acceptably mediocre. In terms of substance, Gran Torino missed the bullseye, but is nowhere near being a failure. In fact, as long as you are a Clint Eastwood fan, you will admire almost everything about this film, for it also gives commentary about past Eastwood characters.

It is incredibly dimwitted of the Academy to ignore Gran Torino in the 81st Academy Awards. Not nominated for a single category? Though it does not deserve Best Picture nor Best Director, it is unquestionably deserving of a nomination in both. I cannot help but wonder what the Academy was thinking. Then again, they also ignored Revolutionary RoadThe Dark KnightWALL-E, and Changeling in the same year.

In conclusion, Gran Torino is a familiar but remarkable entry in Eastwood's filmography. It is a rather well-crafted contemporary fable, and it rightfully deserves more attention than it really has. At the end of the day, Gran Torino is a film about themes and humanism. To quote Roger Ebert, the film is about the "belated flowering of a man's better nature, and it's about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century." Socially, Eastwood's film is radically important, and in today's cultural standards, it may be one of the most crucial films to watch. Naturally, Gran Torino is a foreseeable one-trick pony, but it manages to still reach to us when Director Clint Eastwood is handling the reins.

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