Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gran Torino

Tonight I saw Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood and Bee Vang.

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is an old curmudgeon who fought in the Korean War and apparently never got over it--the agony of combat or the racism. The film begins after he's lost his beloved wife Dorothy and her priest (Christopher Carley) attempts to solicit a confession from him (per the dearly departed's wishes). That fails miserably, as do his repeated attempts, because Kowalski is an unhappy, non-religious man.

He dislikes his son and daughter-in-law's suggestions to move him to a retirement home, he dislikes the appearance and behavior of his teenage granddaughter, and most of all he dislikes the Asians who to him have taken over his tidy Midwestern neighborhood.

His Hmong next door neighbors have two teenage children: the outspoken, spunky Sue (Ahney Her) and the timid Thao (Vang). Thao is constantly harassed by a cousin who happens to be the ringleader of a gang, and is forced into attempting to steal Walt's classic Gran Torino one night. He doesn't succeed, but Walt still comes to his rescue days later when the gang is having somewhat of a riot on his lawn (hence, the already-famous "get off my lawn" line).

The neighborhood, so grateful for his heroism, begins showering him with gifts of gratitude, which he refuses or promptly carries to the garbage. He only softens when Sue charms him and invites him to a barbecue at a time when he's too drunk to refuse. Soon he gains a new appreciation for their food and their company, and even begins to take the former car thief under his wing.

The film is a lot sweeter than I expected it to be, and most of it moves along as a comedy with very inappropriate (yet admittedly funny) racial slurs. The characters address many issues: the effects of war, racism, gang violence, cultural traditions/repressions and poverty.

There are no "slow" moments, though Eastwood does pretty much growl through the first 45 minutes. If it were anyone but him it wouldn't work, but he pulls it off and still shines, playing his real age.

The performances by Vang and Her are also great and I have high hopes we'll be seeing more of them in the years to come.

I wouldn't claim the film as an Oscar hopeful, but I would recommend it as a satisfying piece of entertainment, based on real social dilemmas.

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