Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Seriously, who outside of his ex-wives doesn’t love Clint Eastwood. When I was like seven years old Clint Eastwood was my favorite actor, even though most of those Sergio Leone westerns were made before I was born, we would still catch them on Saturday afternoon watching Clint giving Eli Wallach and them the business. Eli Wallach playing a Mexican… what’s up with that? And don’t even get us started on our fondness for Dirty Harry. One thing that Mr. Eastwood, who has become one of the great American film directors, has never been accused of is being a great actor. And though I don’t necessarily disagree with this I always maintain that Eastwood has something that is far more important than raw acting talent and that would be screen presence. When Clint Eastwood is on the screen, you know he’s there and when he leaves a void is created. I think you can learn to act somewhat, but you can’t learn screen presence because either you have it or you don’t. This leads us to Mr. Eastwood’s latest film ‘Gran Torino’, filmed right down the street from our town of Detroit Michigan, and it seems to be gathering the seventy-eight year old some Oscar buzz, and not just for his expert direction. As I have often said I think subjective awards judged by a bunch of anonymous, corrput dudes in a locked room is silly, and this includes college football, but go ahead and give it to Clint since he was snubbed for ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’.

Anyway, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is one angry racist ass dude, which I suppose we can glean from his calling Black people ‘spooks’ and referring to Asians as ‘slopes’. Walt’s just buried his wife of fifty plus years and judging from his behavior at her wake, he also can’t stand either of his sons, their wives or his grand children. It doesn’t help that the lifelong Ford employee has a son that sells fancy Toyota’s. Walt also apparently didn’t believe in ‘white flight’ as his neighborhood over the years has slowly been taken over by various minority groups, and though Walt ain’t none too happy about this, he’s not about to go anywhere.

Now Walt is more than happy to live out his life smoking his cigarettes and taking care of his lawn until the Hmong kid next door, under heavy pressure from his gang member cousin, tries to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino. The kid is lucky he didn’t get shot for his trouble and to make him atone for his sin, the mother of the boy named Bee (Vang Lohr)forces the boy to do work around the house at Walt’s whim for a couple of weeks. Walt also makes the acquaintance of Bee’s effervescent older sister Sue (Ahney Her) who despite Walt’s supreme resistance has managed to break through the shell of the old cranky dude and has almost made him part of her extended family.

So over the next few weeks Walt grows close to Sue, her family and especially Bee, becoming a bit of a surrogate father to the boy. Walt is experiencing some health problems due to his years of cigarette smoking and worse, the gang that Walt helped prevent Bee from being a part decides to take out their revenge on the family that Walt has become closer to more so than his own family. Well you can’t very well do wrong to Dirty Harry and his people and expect to get away scot free, and we can safely assume that the Korean war veteran is about to open a severe can a whoopass on some wannabe gangsters. But then again, perhaps we shouldn’t assume.

First of all we have to give props to our good friend Julia Ho who shows up in ‘Gran Torino’ as Walt’s doctor. Thumbs up Julia. But back to the film, I believe at this advanced stage in the life of Clint Eastwood nothing less is expected of the man other than excellence, and not surprisingly Eastwood delivers both as a director and as a leading man. The best I can say about any director is that they know how to tell a good story, and ‘Gran Torino’ tells a deceptively simple but compelling story that is basically about a man and a boy, but also about so much more. Its old meets new, it’s about change, acceptance, resolution and revenge. Eastwood the director, using his signature uncomplicated straight forward directing style, assembles these varying pieces of his story in a manner that is engaging and riveting.

I wonder if Eastwood the director had any other choices when casting Eastwood the actor. Personally I don’t who else in the world could play a slow, gaunt old man and still manage to make this old dude so angry and intimidating other than Clint Eastwood. Perhaps Robert Duvall, who can do old and angry with the best of them, but even the great Robert Duvall doesn’t have Eastwood’s afore mentioned screen presence. While it’s certainly not anything from Eastwood we haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable watching the man do work.

There’s really not much I can find to criticize about Gran Torino, though my wife absolutely hated the ending. I on the other hand found it fitting for the character of Walt Kowalski, a culmination of years of being who he is and maybe seeing for the first time that who he was might not have been all that cool. Another quality film from Clint Eastwood, as if anything else was expected.

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