Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
I'm taking a short detour from reviewing current films this week to talk about a film I didn't get a chance to watch at the cinema, but managed to catch recently on cable.
Gran Torino tells the story of Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran who has recently been widowed. He's a cranky old man who doesn't get along with his children and grandchildren, who in turn don't seem to understand him. The local priest, Father Janovich, tries to get through to the old man but isn't quite successful.
One day, a family of Hmong immigrants move into the house next to Walt's. Walt immediately takes a disliking to them, being continuously unhappy that more foreigners are moving into his neighborhood. Things start off badly when Thao, the son of the family tries to steal Walt's 1972 Gran Torino car at the behest of his troublemaking cousin and his gang, and subsequently fails. Later, Walt finds the gang harassing Thao and his family outside their home and takes action, despite harboring ill feelings towards them.
That act of kindness sparks the beginning of a relationship of sorts between Walt and his new neighbors, particularly Thao and his streetwise sister Sue. Although sceptical at first, Walt slowly warms up to the two kids and teaches Thao a thing or two, such as fixing things, talking to people and gaining confidence.
However, Thao's cousin and his gang will not leave things alone, and matters take an ugly turn when they take their misdeeds up a notch and make it personal.
Gran Torino came out in the same year Clint Eastwood released his film Changeling, and I have to say the former is a much better film. It's a pity that not only did Gran Torino not make it to Malaysian cinemas, it was also snubbed at the Oscars that year. For me, Changeling was overdramatic, overdone and a bit forced. Here, Eastwood takes a simple story and makes it his own. His story, which centres on Walt's friendship with Thao, is reminiscent of Pixar's Up, except that the latter is a lighthearted affair. In Gran Torino, despite the many hilarious situations Walt and Thao encounter in their relationship, it is ultimately shadowed by dark problems within their society.
Eastwood does a magnificent job being director, actor and even contributing his vocals for the closing theme. At 80 years old, Eastwood proves he still has the chops to don many hats and still be a force to be reckoned with. When as Walt, he points a rifle at the gang and snarls "Get off my lawn!", if you were one of them, you'll know he means business. And yet, Eastwood still has the wisdom to acknowledge that he isn't the action hero he used to be, judging by the way this film ends. It's a bit sad, but it still managed to put a smile on my face. The supporting cast isn't much to speak of, but they provide enough chemistry with Eastwood to make it work.
All in all, a classic film about friendship, respect and understanding. Recommended. (4/5)