Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’ve never watched a Clint Eastwood film I didn’t like. That being said, I couldn’t wait to check out his latest film, Gran Torino, when it hit the theaters. Unfortunately, my wallet, and the number of good films in the theater at the same time forced me to put the movie on hold. Happily, after finally seeing this film, I can still honestly say – I’ve never watched a Clint Eastwood film I didn’t like.
Gran Torino stars Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, a Korean War Veteran set in his ways who has just lost his wife. His neighborhood is somewhat rundown and a criminal element has come to the area, but Walt refuses to give up all that he has worked hard to attain. His family tries to convince Walt to move to a safer and more secure living environment, but Walt has never truly identified with his sons and thus flatly refuses their advances. He is angered by the changes to the neighborhood – the new cultures that he doesn’t understand moving in and seemingly taking over – but he is determined to stick it out.
Thao is Walt’s Hmong neighbor, a shy young man who expresses uncertainty as to what he wants out of life. His cousins want him to join their gang while his sister Sue Vang Lor wants something better for him. Uncertain which path to choose, Thao allows his cousin Spider to bring him into the gang. His initiation mission is to steal his neighbor’s 1972 Gran Torino Sport, Walt’s prize possession. When he fails to do so, the gang berates him and proceeds to fight him. Walt ends the fight, insisting that he only did so to get them off his property. However, Sue and her family see things differently – they feel indebted to him.
Sue recognizes the good man under the gruff and seemingly bigoted exterior and feels the need to make Walt a member of her family. By doing so, Sue hopes that Thao can find the male role model in Walt that he has never had. Things work out perfectly until Spider’s gang attempts to re-enlist Thao.
Gran Torino is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t deal with foul language and derogatory terms, this is not a movie for you. The language and terminology help to add a truthfulness to the film that is not often seen. This film shows the differences between American people and the feelings of past immigrants or American born citizens for the new immigrants. Often times it is hard for one set of people to understand another set of people simply because of cultural differences. It is in human nature to fear what is not understood and often times, that makes it hard for newcomers to integrate into our society. This film’s gruff nature, much like that of its main character, teaches acceptance through learning.
Clint Eastwood is one helluvan actor and will always be one of my favorites. He is perfect in this role. One might see Walt Kowalski as an elderly Dirty Harry, not so much the vigilante, but willing to stand up for himself and the things he believes in. I was really impressed with the acting of Ahney Her who portrayed Sue Vang Lor as a spunk girl with a great deal of charisma and intelligence. She’s just the kind of girl you could imagine becoming friends with. Thao is perfectly portrayed by Bee Vang as a shy, uncertain young man who comes into his own through the not-so-gently tutelage of his neighbor.
After seeing this film, I found it ridiculous that Gran Torino was snubbed at the 81st Academy Awards. The storyline and message of the film were poignant and in perfect harmony with events of today. During intense scenes and scenes that were somewhat lighthearted, the acting in this film was perfect. You could actually see these characters as real people in your society. For this film to be passed up for an Oscar, members of the Academy should be ashamed of themselves.
Gran Torino is a must see for any Clint Eastwood fan as well as anyone who can relate to being seen as different and as a result, misunderstood. Bigotry exists because some people are simply unwilling to learn about people and cultures that seem different from their own. If people just took time to learn about others and examine different cultures, the world would be a different place. That is the message of this film and the reason that I strongly recommend that everyone checks out Gran Torino.