19 March 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino


Gran Torino
2008, 116mins, R
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer (s): Nick Schenk, David Johansson
Cast includes: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Hur, Christopher Carley, Geraldine Hughes
Release Date: 9th January 2009

Clint Eastwood is talent at its most raw and admirable, looking back at his illustrious screen career it’s hard not to sit back and gawp a little at his epic achievements. Now to compliment his other critically celebrated 2008 feature we have Gran Torino, again directed but this time also starring Eastwood in the sort of role that he’s always relished. Think Dirty Harry as the most badass pensioner you’ve ever seen. However the film doesn’t just act as a chance for Clint to make and act like it’s the 70’s all over again, but to show a rarely spotted humorous side and attempt at least to make a statement concerning the racial situation the world is thronged with. The latter doesn’t always work but Gran Torino makes for a smooth cinematic ride, on the strength of the central mans leading performance, sharp dialogue and some genuinely heartfelt moments.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) has just lost his wife, and amidst the heaps of insincere sympathy that he keeps receiving he has to tolerate the fact that his once all American neighborhood has turned into a very international one. His family are selfish and inconsiderate meaning that loneliness is something he would rather suffer through. One night however he catches his teenage Hmong neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) trying to steal his prized Gran Torino in an initiation test for a local gang, and thus after his disgraced family find out Thao is put to work by Walt. Initially the relationship is cold but Walt and Thao slowly build a bond largely in part to Thao’s lovely sister Sue (Ahney Her) who Walt also takes a liking to, but the gang violence in the area is making it increasingly hard for Sue and Thao to forge a future, and so Walt slowly formulates a plan to ensure they can live the lives they deserve.

Eastwood is typically stalwart in the lead role and in truth this is his picture from first frame to last, Walt literally is the embodiment of the gritty yet engaging characters Eastwood played in his prime and this familiarity allows Eastwood to expand and humanize the characterization further. Sure Walt is grumpy and at times unpleasant in his brutal honesty but Eastwood never has him cross into unlikeable territory, thanks to a well structured plot and a convincing and sympathetic back-story the audience is always on the old mans side. As the Hmong youngsters Bee Vang works hard but ultimately struggles as Thao, but Ahney Her is superb in the position of Sue. Her scenes with Eastwood are relaxed and yet dynamic at the same time, lighthearted but explosive. Her displays a raw talent and it would be criminal in the age of The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus if she wasn’t given another promising chance in the film industry. Rounding out the key cast Christopher Carley is decent as the considerate yet intrusive local Priest, desperately amongst all things trying to get Walt to confess.

Gran Torino seems to be marketed as a thriller, in truth that’s about the genre it’s furthest from. There are sequences where respectable levels of tension escalate but at it’s heart the film is a touching coming of age story, with some really nice comedic moments. Even though his meat and potatoes performance isn’t super Vang works well alongside Eastwood, the latter channeling his experience to great effect to provide the film with a genuine emotional undercurrent. There is nothing false or sappy about Gran Torino, when Eastwood aims for the heart he largely hits his target, unlike inferior filmmakers more likely to induce vomiting with their faux sentimental stinkers. This element of Gran Torino is where it scores most of it’s brownie points and the asset that allows the audience to remain consistently involved throughout.

The racial comment the picture makes is more refined but easily more effective than that of say Lakeview Terrace, Eastwood doesn’t ladle on the sermon but represents a pointed view of the prejudices that can infect everyday life. All this said the film isn’t perfect, at times it feels a little to light to truly register at the level it continually aims for and a lot of the supporting work doesn’t feel all that professional. Still Gran Torino always has it’s laurels resting in the centre ground, and thanks to a well constructed screenplay and a great central performance that’s a perfectly acceptable area to set up camp.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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