After I repeatedly hear about how excellent a movie is, I become skeptical. Often, I won't see it for a long time due to expectations mangled to the point where the movie suffers, as I ask, 'That's it?' It was like this as I started Gran Torino. Many mentioned it was woooooonnnnnnderful; I was apprehensive.
We meet Walt (Clint Eastwood) at his deceased wife Dorothy's funeral. Walt is a curmudgeon--grimacing and growling with displeasure at his teen granddaughter's skimpy outfit and the disrespect displayed by his two adult sons. A Korean War vet, he's racist and a holdover in his now predominantly Hmong neighborhood. He dislikes everyone except Daisy, his Labrador (yet another example of an exceptional canine actor). We meet Sue (Ahney Her) and Thao (Bee Vang), the Hmong siblings living next door. Thao tries evading his cousin's threatening insistence that Thao join his gang. After his cousin's relentless persistence, Thao accepts the challenge of initiation into the gang but ends up failing. In his failure, he becomes indebted to Walt. As they get to know each other, the two men learn a lot.
At the same time, the parish priest, young Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) has made a promise to Walt's widow that he would get Walt to make confession. Walt is vehemently opposed, insisting it was his wife who was the churchie, not him. But, Janovich isn’t easily deterred. Carley’s Janovich does an excellent job facing off against Walt’s grumble and brawn.
Initially, Walt is too one-dimensional in his crankiness. It was distracting and I didn’t buy it. But, then you notice him changing. It’s not so drastic that you don't buy it. The racial slurs never worked because after a while you just want him to stop but somehow the Hmong characters don't mind (which I found odd). Clint Eastwood is fantastic. As director and producer of Gran Torino, he still has the right touch. He incorporates his whole body into his acting to portray and become the character. It was neat to see Hmong culture portrayed. (I learned a lot about Hmong culture years ago when I worked with refugees). Gran Torino does a good job educating the viewer in an intriguing way. I loved Thao and Walt's relationship. Their banter exemplifies how they both come to need and depend on each other. The scene where Thao gets the prize is lovely. The ending is sad yet you see how much Walt has learned and his actions help him show Thao the way to be a strong, honorable man, something Walt wasn't able to do with his own sons. A film about mistakes and redemption.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Run time: 116 minutes