This is class.
With most movies, I feel that you care little about who’s the director, what his/her background is, in what films the lead has starred, what the film is derived from — all things that have nothing directly to do with why you bought a ticket, namely, to be entertained in the moment.
Clint Eastwood is the most profound exception. To say that “Gran Torino” is the culmination of this actor-director’s career is to trivialize it. Eastwood is a walking culmination. He is and has always been the finish piece. We suspected that from his immortal “Dirty Harry.” There is so much jarring force which radiates from his flinty, weathered face and measured words that he has created a reputation that sets up every scene, each action, each utterance. The statements he is making by his very presence, his very persona, are almost hypnotic. Not that they they are profound in themselves, no — but that his total screen image, audio and visual, in the way that it selects, enhances and projects, is spellbinding.
Here he is, at 78, again the manly man who needs no feats of physical strength to vibrate masculinity. And his film itself? No need for modern styling, pounding close-ups and manipulative pacing for today’s limited attention-span audiences.
No. He owns every scene. They are extensions and expansions of his essence. He plays here a man forgotten by a world he has lost; it won’t ever wait for him — it is gone. The film’s strengths include a canny balance of compelling drama and innumerable laughs, especially early on. There are the catchy spontaneous performances by the amateur Hmong cast (from the mountains of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos who fled in panic when the Americans vacated in 1975) who elicit just the precise amount of sentimentality. There are the necessary shootouts. And there is Eastwood, who says, “I blow a hole in your face and sleep like a baby” leaving no doubt that he means it.
And there is the dangerous desperation of street gangs, confrontation their only measure of manhood..
Walt Kowalsky is now a bitter man, radiating hate for just about everybody everywhere.
He has just now seen the burial of his longtime wife.
He passes all of his time in anger and orneriness, hating his own “spoiled” family of two sons for their affluence, rejecting their offers of financial help. Here in a working class Detroit neighborhood of largely Asians he sits on his front porch, his hobby: beer chugging. His Labrador, Daisy, is his only friend. He steams at people — democratically: no favoritism here, this unbridled bigot utters racist profanity at every faith and creed, equally. But it’s a no-harm-intended diatribe, much like that of the immortal Archie Bunker.
But the world around him won’t let him be. A family of Hmong immigrants lives next door in a rundown house. This is a grandmother, a mother and two teenagers — a withdrawn boy Thao (Bee Vang) and more forthright girl Sue (Ahney Her).
The local Hmong gang, whose leader is Thao’s cousin, is pressing him to join the gang. He shrugs OK but as a test of worthiness, he’s required to to steal a car. He’ll try that on Kowalski’s prize 1972 Ford Gran Torino. But that fails and almost gets him killed by the armed owner himself.
Consistent with their code of honor, the boy’s family demands that he do penance by working for Kowalsky for awhile. Neither is happy about that.
Kowalsky is to become a protector of Sue, whom he rescues from some menacing black street kids looking to a gangbang.
We’ll recollect the immortal “Dirty Harry” scene in which he took on dangerous types, daring them in lethal scenes. And here he goes as the gangbangers return for revenge.
A tiny glimmer of good in Kowalsky surfaces as he dedicates himself more and more with the siblings, empathizing with their ambitions to better their lives. He says, “I have more in common with these gooks than with my own spoiled, rotten family.”
We must abide the tragic ending. It is admirably well thought-out and even surprising. Sad but happy. It resolves so much.
“Gran Torino” (quality rating: 8 out of 10)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Dave Johannson
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang
Time: 1 hr., 56 min.
Rating: R (continuous vulgarity, some violence)
Marty Meltz. http://www.martymoviereviews.com 30-year former films critic for the Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram. Offering right-to-the-point reviews that address directly the question of the film’s entertainment value to you. Films have personalities. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, who directs it, who stars in it, if it doesn’t reach out to you with charisma. I examine its honesty and intelligence. Are you being respected, or are you being jerked around?