I’ve been calling it the Eastwood stunt. It’s simple. If you think you have a movie with Oscar potential, wide release it in January. The Academy won’t hold you over a year so you’ll have the freshest film on the ballot. It’s worked for him before, but can Gran Torino earn him acting acclaim?
After the death of his wife, Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) finds himself alone and particularly frustrated. The neighborhood is a non-white populace. This is very troublesome for the Korean War vet. His family has no time for him, and wants to put him in a nursing home. To make matters even worse, gangs are taking over the streets. Once they step on his turf, Walt has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. In the process he accidentally befriends Sue (Ahney Her) and Thao (Bee Vang), a pair of Hmong teens struggling to grow-up.
How grizzled can an old man be? Apparently director/star Eastwood is unsure of how he is perceived because too much of the film is spent spelling it out. It’s not subtle at all to place three grandchildren in hammed-up introductions at their grandmother’s funeral. I’m starting to think that it would be interesting if every film handled exposition in a grandiose sci-fi manner. Instead of cheesy dialogue pointing out what the characters of the movie already know, we could have a scrolling title. I can see it now, “In the present, there was Walt, alone, he had but one thing… Gran Torino.”
The identity of the film was tough to establish. Much of the first half played like a MADtv gag (I’m thinking about the one where the Terminator is sent back in time to protect Jesus). There were jokes aplenty, but there were moments that I had to laugh despite my belief that the scene wasn’t intended to be comical. Walt also has a boundless supply of racial jokes. In our society is it okay to laugh at these in a theatre?
Eventually Thoa is tasked with helping Mr. Kowalski around the house. It is during this time that we see some of the best character development of the year. Walt learns how to pronounce Hmong names correctly but only after the character has earned respect. As Mr. Miyagi, Walt gains respect in the neighborhood and his exchanges with Thoa are touching.
Gran Torino earns its R rating, mostly through language and some violence. It’s tough to judge for being so funny despite the mood, but in some ways it’s disappointing because plenty of the laughs come from over the top acting. I know that Clint wanted to load the film with non-actors, but I’m certain that we won’t be seeing any more of Father Janovich or the cop with the speaking role. What are Clint’s Oscar chances? Maybe if it’s treated like a career achievement award, otherwise he plays a part we’ve seen before and sometimes he over does it.
I feel the urge to make a point on the plausibility of a climactic point in the film. Keep reading, as I’ll masquerade around details. In regard to the ending, don’t people usually run away when something like that happens? Does that make much sense to anyone out there? For being the love child of The Karate Kid, Unforgiven, Menace 2 Society, and Grumpy Old Men; Gran Torino didn’t turn out too bad, though I stand slightly disappointed. ***