Film: Gran Torino
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Bill Gerber, Robert Lorenz
Writer: Nick Schenk
Starring: Clint Eastwood
Runtime: 116 minutes
When a new Clint Eastwood film comes to theaters, the natural response for most is excitement, which is exactly how one might feel after seeing the great trailer for “Gran Torino.” 2008 was not Eastwood’s year, though. After lukewarm reviews for his previous movie, “Changeling,” one would expect “Torino” to be Eastwood’s next grand film, but that would be a gross overstatement.
War veteran Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) has recently lost his wife. Wanting nothing more than to be alone and mourn her, he receives an unwanted surprise when a Hmong family moves into the house next door. He views them with complete disdain and wants nothing to do with them. As they go about their lives he watches and spouts racist comments to himself. When Thao Lor (Bee Vang), son of the next door family, is pressured to join a local gang, he is told to steal Walt’s prized possession, his Gran Torino. The initiation doesn’t go well, as Walt catches him in the process. Thao’s actions only confirm Walt’s initial racist feelings about his neighbors. Sue Lor (Ahney Her) feels there is more to Walt than his rough exterior lets on, and sets out to befriend him. Walt’s newfound friendships are soon threatened by the neighborhood gang. When this happens Walt decides to make a stand and repent for his years of hate.
Those going into this film expecting a piece of high art by one of America’s greatest actors and filmmakers will be in for a sore disappointment. “Torino” is nothing more than “Dirty Harry” meets “Crash,” which might sound good, but it’s anything but. After speaking almost entirely in racial slurs we’re supposed to suddenly feel sympathy for this blatant bigot as he comes to realize that Hmongs aren’t as bad as he thought they were. What we get is a schmaltzy piece of unintentionally hilarious rubbish. By the end of the film he still hasn’t realized that his foreign neighbors probably don’t appreciate racial epithets being hurled at them.
While dialogue consisting of grunts may have worked for Eastwood in previous films, it comes across as ridiculous and takes one out of the film completely. Eastwood, I’m sorry to say, is not at the top of his game. One might picture an actor whose glory days of Hollywood have passed him by taking this part, but not him. Perhaps Eastwood’s age is indeed catching up to him, as he should have seen what a poor storyline this film contains. Making a painfully obvious screen debut is Ahney Her. She attempts to play her character as sweet, precocious and likeable, but comes across as annoying and underwhelming. Her’s performance screams amateur. Vang is just as bad and is excruciating to watch. Although Eastwood is surely trying to go for realism by casting unknowns he does nothing to correct their performances.
One can imagine the screenwriter sitting in his apartment thinking he’s writing a great, thought-provoking film that will change everyone’s preconceived notions of race, but it won’t. What the viewer will get is two hours of race-related insults, some of which are undoubtedly meant to be funny, but they’re thrown around so much that we begin laughing at it, not with. The whole plot is trite and tried. A bit of forgiveness may be in order for the relatively inexperienced writer, but Eastwood should have at least required extensive rewrites.
Eastwood has been reported as saying that “Gran Torino” will be his last film in front of the camera, which is sad on many levels. The most depressing of which is that he leaves us with a whimper instead of a roar. This film will ultimately leave a bitter taste in the viewer’s mouth and will go down in history as the film that could have been.