Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Gran Torino (2008)(Minor Spoilers)
**This review contains MINOR spoilers. No major character deaths, or big reveals**
In Highland Park, Michigan, an angry and grumpy Korean War veteran named Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) struggles with the thought of adjusting to a lonely life after his wife’s death. Walt’s surly, old school attitude complicates a broken relationship with his alienated sons Mitch (Brian Haley) and Steve (Brian Howe), Mitch’s wife, Karen (Geraldine Hughes), Mitch’s young daughter, Ashley (Dreama Walker), and Mitch’s son, Josh (Michael E. Kurowski).
Honoring a promise from Walt’s wife, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) tries to befriend Walt for a confession at church, but Walt rejects Father Janovich’s kind gestures. On his birthday, Mitch and Karen launch a mission to move Walt into a retirement home, but Walt vehemently refuses, and to add insult to injury, Walt forces Mitch and Karen to leave after the proposal.
Eventually, Mitch encounters a series of problems with a Hmong family next door. Thao (Bee Vang) lives with his sister, Sue (Ahney Her), and Thao is the target of his cousin Spider’s (Doua Moua) gang. Sue tries to protect Thao, but Spider and his crew are determined to force Thao into their gang as a new member, with or without Thao’s consent. After a while, Thao cracks under the peer pressure, and Thao agrees to a risky initiation test to earn his stripes. The test? Thao must sneak into Walt’s garage at night, and steal Walt’s valued treasure: A 1972 Gran Torino. But Walt surprises Thao with a rifle in the garage, and Thao escapes after a crucial mistake from Walt.
With some help from Sue, Walt agrees to a deal with Thao’s family: Thao will work under Walt’s supervision to complete numerous chores with no questions asked. As time passes, Walt forms a bond with Thao, and Walt teams up with his barber friend, Martin (John Carroll Lynch) and other friends in the neighborhood to help Thao break out of his shell.
Walt’s deteriorating health worries Sue and Thao, and to add to his list of problems, Spider and his gang are looking for revenge after a surprise attack from Walt. A nervous Father Janovich wants a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but Walt is willing to risk everything to protect Thao and Sue……….
Clint Eastwood delivers the best performance in Gran Torino, as the racist and grizzled old codger with a bad temper. At first, Eastwood is this nasty old man, who seemingly hates everyone, and Walt sticks to the codger formula with a familiar demand after a confrontation with Spider’s gang: “Get off my lawn!” That’s right. Walt actually pulls a “Those darn kids are on my lawn!” card, but the grumpy old man moment is good for a few cheap laughs.
Towards the end, Eastwood shows a softer side for the Walt character. Walt apologizes for his mistakes, and Walt embraces his role as a mentor/father figure for Thao. Walt is not an overly complex character. He’s a hard working common man, with the spirit of a scrappy fighter, who never quits, and Eastwood’s charming and charismatic performance is something to admire.
Christopher Carley takes the spot for the second best performance, and Ahney Her is decent as Sue. Bee Vang is passable as the nerdy and shy bookworm. It’s not fair to judge Brian Haley’s performance, because Haley’s screen time is limited to sporadic appearances, and you can say the same thing about Hughes and Walker.
I can’t ignore the logical plot holes during the finale, and I have a hard time buying into Spider and his gang as a ruthless and dangerous group of tough guys. Also, the final moments of the movie feel tedious at times, because predictability kicks in after Walt’s decision.
Still, Gran Torino is a satisfying drama. It’s a touching story about an old grouch, who sees the error of his ways, and Walt corrects his mistakes to be a mentor for a scared and lonely kid, who’s looking for guidance. Gran Torino is loaded with good laughs, and if you’re a fan of Clint Eastwood’s work, Gran Torino is a must-see, because Eastwood delivers a memorable performance here.
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