Saturday, May 02, 2009

Film Review: 'Gran Torino' – 9.0/10

Film Review: Drama (2008)
'Gran Torino'
Written by Joé McKen on Saturday, May 02, 2009

Clint Eastwood still looks as menacing as ever as Walt Kowalski in his fantastic drama Gran Torino.

Walt Kowalski doesn't like his neighbors. He hates them, actually. That does tend to happen when you're a bitter, racist old white man and your neighbors are Hmong, an Asian people from Laos and other parts of the region who fought alongside the US in Korea and Vietnam, who were forced to flee following the Communists' crackdown on their people and culture. Walt stares into his neighboring "gooks"' yard to see them decapitating chickens in a sort of ritual. "Barbarians, damned barbarians", he groans under his breath as he heads back in his house.

Walt doesn't like his family, either. While they're continually muttering behind his back at his persistent criticism and intolerance, they certainly fail to recognize how insufferable they themselves are. The only reason they ever call Walt is to ask favors (few of which Walt concedes), and their kids are pure self-centeredness and greed. Typical American family, I suppose … and Walt is your typical 50s cranky old man. To them, at least.

Walt likes his routine. When he's not sipping beer on his front porch, overlooking the downtrodden neighborhood with his faithful aging Labrador girl Daisy resting next to him, he's either doing some housework and maintenance here and there around the place (he's quite the skilled handyman), or obsessively cleaning and polishing his prized car, a fantastically mint-condition vintage 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Any idiot without a care for cars would get a hard-on just looking at that baby. Though they'd probably high-tail it out of there in terror when they saw Walt's look of cold fury which left little to the imagination as in what he'd do to them if he ever caught them snooping around too close to his precious car.

It truly amazes me how Eastwood is still able to look as menacing as he'd ever been, from the days of the Cowboy with No Name to Dirty Harry. The automobile worker may have retired, but not Walt's spirit, still bristling with energy and bitterness towards his "chink" neighbors. Every scowl, every growl, every furrowed brow – one glance at the man tells you whether you're fine, or whether you're about to have a really bad day. Walt certainly isn't afraid to deliver.

One day, Walt is awoken in the middle of the night and sees his worst nightmare come to life: someone's in his garage with his Gran Torino! Wasting no time other than to grab his M-1 Garand assault rifle, he pays the would-be thief a little visit, taking careful aim at the Asian juvenile's head as he follows him slowly around the garage, the rifle's cannon not two feet away from the boy's forehead. A lucky trip, and the kid is able to run away with his brains intact. Walt looked decidedly undecided as to whether he was about to blow the kid's head off or not.

Eventually though, he sees the same boy, quiet and passive, being pressured by a Hmong gang to join their ranks; it soon degenerates into a fight, which spills onto Walt's precious lawn – a grave mistake, as there's Walt right then and there, aiming his rifle at the gangsters and telling them, quite calmly and assuredly, how he'd blow a hole through their skulls and then go home and sleep like a baby. But it's only natural for Walt to be fearless, after all – he'd fought in Korea and, as he poignantly mentions, used to stack enemy corpses five feet high and use them as sandbags. The gangbangers get the point and don't hesitate to leave with their lives.

However, far from this incident leading to his neighbors to leave him alone, he is promptly swamped with all sorts of gifts on his doorstep: plants and flowers, food and ornaments. He can't stuff it down his garbage cans fast enough and it's all back again. See, he just saved the life of young Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang), the kid who was coerced into attempting to steal his prized Gran Torino as an "initiation" into the aforementioned gang, and he's now a hero to the neighborhood he despises so much. Talk about irony.

Meanwhile, he's approached by Sue, an open and likeable Hmong girl, and despite his usual coldness she gets him to open up – if only just a little – and start to accept the Hmong way of life and culture … somewhat aided by stuffing him full of that delicious "gook food". I've never had Hmong food … I'd be curious to try it, if an old cranky bastard like Walk could fall in love with it.

I will say it: Gran Torino is one of my favorite films. Easily. The drama is thrilling and captivating, the acting (particularly by Eastwood) is as fantastic as it gets, the plot follows down a lifelike and riveting path, and overall the premise of an old man learning to open up his heart and mind to different people and cultures, while not entirely new, is carried out so expertly and genuinely that it truly bears Eastwood's signature in more than one ways. This is the man who also brought us the wonderful Million Dollar Baby (2005). Eastwood is pure talent – his venerable career as an actor and director (among other things) illustrates this perfectly. He truly is the greatest actor ever to embrace the silver screen. H e brings a sort of truth, honest, and soul to his works that you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Hollywood.

I could go on and on but frankly this review is dragging on by now, so it's time to close it. If you're any sort of a moviegoer, you will want to watch, and own, this movie as soon as possible. If haven't seen it, shame on you. Rent it immediately. If you have seen it, you know how masterful this work truly is.

For bringing one of the most interesting and enthralling tales of racial disparity and genuineness that I've seen in a very long time, I award Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino with 9.0 cans of beer out of 10.

Walt Kowalski: Clint Eastwood • Thao Van Lor: Bee Vang • Sue Lor: Ahney Her
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Clint Eastwood • Writer(s): Nick Schenk, Dave Johannson • Original Score: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
General Information
Distributed by: Warner Bros. • Released: January 09, 2009 • Running Time: 116 mins • Budget: US$33 million • Rated: R


  • Melissa

    I thought he called them 'spooks' and they weren't doing a ritual with the chicken they were making dinner!

  • Joé McKen

    Heh. "Gook" (assuming that's what you misunderstood as "spook") is an old racial slur towards Asian soldiers and officers and such from the US military. According to Wikipedia, at least.

    I dunno about the Hmong and if they traditionally make any animal sacrifices (any Hmong readers care to straighten this out for me?), but that's what the script pointed to (check out, it's my second hub to IMDb).

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