Gran Torino


Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by:Nick Schenk, Dave Johannson
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brian Haley, John Carroll Lynch
Released: January 22, 2009
Grade: B-

Gran Torino is a film of two halves – the first part is a comedy and the second part is a drama. I don’t think this is the intention of director Clint Eastwood but that’s how I saw it.

The film opens with Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) attending the funeral of his late wife. He stands at the front of the church with a stern, unemotional look on his face. This is one tough cookie. Even his own grandchildren are afraid of him.

I can’t quite think of the right word but I’ll describe Walt as being "old school". He fought in the Korean War, he worked the same job in a car factory for 50 years, and he has an American flag hanging from his front porch.

Walt is also a racist. He lives in a neighbourhood in which a lot of Asian immigrants now live. Instead of welcoming them to his country, Walt sits on his porch and growls at them as they walk past. His actions generated many laughs from the audience at the screening I attended. I have to admit that even I laughed at some of his racist jokes. For a while I thought I was watching Borat 2.

One evening, a fight breaks out the front yard of his next door neighbour’s house. The Chinese family who live there have been targeted by an Asian gang who are looking to recruit their eldest son, Thao (Vang). Walt grabs his shotgun and steps outside with a crazy look in his eye. With his teeth clenched, he tells them all in his croaky voice to "get off my lawn". The gang members slowly retreat to their car and drive away.

The next day, Walt finds himself inundated with gifts from the local Asian community. They believe it was his actions that saved Thao’s life and they want to show their thanks. Walt wants nothing to do with them but they won’t take no for an answer and he reluctantly accepts their food and flowers.

It must have an effect on Walt because he soon becomes friends with Thao and his sister, Sue (Her). He takes Thao under his wing and helps him find his first job. I’m not really sure why Walt has mellowed after decades of resentment. Perhaps he’s realised the error of his ways. Perhaps he’s just lonely. I’m not sure.

There’s an action packed finale which is silly and unnecessary. I can’t say anymore without ruing the story. It doesn’t seem to have bothered the many Americans who flocked to see this film in its opening weekend. It took in a cool $29m which was the biggest opening ever for a Clint Eastwood movie. Does this mean I’m in the minority once again?

There were parts of the film which showed promise but I did have issues with the over-simplified plot and clichéd characters. I thought the acting was terrible. Some of the cast looked like they were reading their lines of cue cards. There’s talk that this may be Clint’s last movie but I hope this isn’t the case. He’s made some brilliant movies in recent years and I’d hate to see him finish up on such a mediocre note.