Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gran Torino (2008)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

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.

Walt’s master plan to eliminate Spider and his gang? A final showdown at the gang’s house.  One day, Thao was the victim of an ambush from Spider and his gang. Walt retaliated with a nasty beating for one of the gang members, but Spider and his gang delivered another crushing blow with a drive-by shooting on Walt’s home and Thao’s home. After the shooting, the gang captures and rapes Sue.

An enraged Walt promises vengeance, with Thao playing the role of his partner in the assault on Spider’s gang. But Walt tricks Thao during a meeting at his house. Walt locks Thao in the basement to protect him, because Walt is trying to spare Thao a lifetime of haunting memories for taking another man’s life.

During the confrontation at the gang’s house, Walt (with a cigarette in his mouth) slowly reaches into his jacket. Walt quickly removes his hand, and the gang murders Walt with a series of gunshots. Walt never had a gun inside his jacket. Instead, Walt pulled out a lighter, because he wanted the gang to believe he had a gun. The gang opens fire on a defenseless old man, eye witnesses in the neighborhood help the police with their statements, and Spider and his entire gang are arrested for murder. After Walt’s funeral, Thao receives the Gran Torino as a gift during the reading for Walt’s will.

I get the point of Walt sacrificing himself during the confrontation with Spider and his gang. Walt had to protect Thao, because Thao was dead set on bloody revenge with no questions asked. On top of that, Walt’s time was running out. Throughout the movie, Walt has trouble with a bad cough, and towards the end, Walt coughs up blood. So Walt was ready to go, he wanted to go out on his own terms, and save Thao and Sue from Spider and his group of thugs.

BUT I have a few problems with the finale. First of all, the foreshadowing is too obvious. Walt gives Martin twenty dollars for a haircut (the regular haircut is ten dollars) and a straight razor shave, Walt leaves his dog at Thao and Sue’s house, Walt shares a polite phone conversation with Mitch, and I can‘t forget about Walt‘s “I finish things, that‘s what I do“ speech for Thao. The constant farewell signs kill any chances for an unpredictable ending, because after the drive-by shooting, you know Walt’s death is coming, and it’s coming soon.

Also, what about the police? Nobody reports the drive-by shooting, and on top of that, no one reports Sue’s rape? And I’m not buying into the intimidating gang as the sole reason for a lack of cooperation with the police. Intimidating? Please. Spider and his gang look like a bunch of high school dropouts, who spend most of their time riding around, while “playing” the role of a tough guy. In the end, they’re just wannabes/posers.

Although, I’ll give a few bonus points for the hilarity during the reading for Walt’s will. There’s a twinkle in Ashley’s eye (and you can say the same thing about Karen), because she’s 100% sure she’ll receive the Gran Torino as a gift from Walt. When the lawyer announces Thao as the recipient for the Gran Torino, you can see the looks of shock and devastation on Ashley and Karen’s faces.

It’s a hilarious moment, because Ashley was foaming at the mouth for her long awaited (Ashley asked Walt about the Gran Torino after the funeral at the beginning) chance to drive the Gran Torino. After Walt’s death, owning the Gran Torino was a surefire deal for Ashley, because she didn’t know about the relationship with Thao. But the lawyer pulled the rug out from underneath her at the last second, and the “You gotta be kidding me?!?!” looks on Karen and Ashley’s faces are just priceless.

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.

Rating: 7/10

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