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Movie Review: Gran Torino

August 10, 2009

There’s one advantage to being the last person on Earth to review a movie: I don’t have to explain the plot.  Or at least, not in much detail.  And I don’t need to worry about spoiling Gran Torino for anyone.

Clint Eastwood plays a retired auto worker.  We gain insight into his character at his wife’s funeral: he’s bitter, cynical, and bitter.  (Did I mention bitter?  He should receive an Oscar just for his facial expression in the first scenes of the movie.)  Soon after the funeral, we learn that his deteriorating neighborhood is being taken over by foreigners, all of whom he detests.

When the Hmong neighbor kid (named Thao), tries to steal his classic automobile (guess which model) as part of a gang initiation, he confronts the kid with his Korean-war era rifle, thwarting the theft. He and the would-be thief are forced together by the relentless Hmong women of the neighborhood.  In a tradition similar to a Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, they send him to Eastwood to work off the dishonor of having tried to steal his car.  Eastwood tries to refuse, but he is told it would be a great insult not to accept. 

Of course he has no problem insulting anyone, but he laments; “Those Hmong women, they’re like badgers!”  That brief soliloquy is delivered to his dog, in whom he confides most of his inner thoughts.  And since we are listening in, we have a doG’s eye view.

In addition to being bitter, Eastwood’s character is about as racist as they come, yet paradoxically he becomes the protector and benefactor to the Hmong family next door.

In a stunning and completely unexpected development, he and Thao become friends.  When both Thao and his sister become victims of gang violence, Eastwood locks Thao in his basement and goes to settle the score with the gang. 

Eastwood is one of the few actors who could deliver the line “Get off my lawn!” in memorable, quotable way.  There’s a funny scene where he’s beating the crap out of a gang member.  The camera looks up into Eastwood’s ancient face, distorted by rage, when he says “If I have to come back here, it’s gonna get f*ing ugly!”  Well you had to be there, I guess.

My favorite parts are where he (figuratively) tortures the local Catholic priest with his cynicism.  You want to perfect your Eastwood imitation to master “Well halle-f*ing-lujah!”.  If you like that sort of thing;  I may have rewound and played it back a couple times just to be sure.  But don’t worry about the priest; he does all right for an “over-educated 27-year old virgin who likes to comfort superstitious old women with talk of the afterlife.”

Eastwood’s musical talents are also on display in the movie, as is his ability to actually think about a story and what it means as a reflection of cultural realities. The movie touches on race, generational conflict, gender roles, even religion.  At the end, Eastwood confesses to the priest, but mercifully it does not appear that he had changed his mind about religion.  Rather, it seems he does it to honor the memory of his religious wife, and because he did have something on his mind that was bothering him.  Something that would have surprised his sons.

Gran Torino is a “mentor movie” in which an aging action hero takes an uncertain youth under his wing, and teaches him how to be a man.  It’s also a movie about how a young person (Thao’s sister) helps the old man make a little bit of final sense of his life.  Think of this as a much-better retelling of Finding Forrester.  (Don’t tell anyone, but I actually enjoyed both movies.)

Categories: Movies, Reviews
  1. August 10, 2009 at 22:21 | #1

    It was a wonderful movie. I loved all the times where Eastwood stuck out his hand (everytime everyone thinks he has a gun) and makes a pistol out of it. Then proceeds to pretend shoot people with the “pew… pew…” sound.

  2. August 11, 2009 at 08:45 | #2

    The conceit of the film (which by the way, I liked) was the old “crusty bigot turns out to have a heart of gold” is about as hackneyed as it can be, but the genius (I use the word sort of generically here) of the film is that it overcomes a trite theme to be worth watching.

    If American film making has anything to redeem it for the last several years, it is undoubtedly the ouvre of Clint Eastwood. Here’s my view: special effects do not make a story, and do not redeem a film which has no noticeable plot or character development. So, hats off to “Unforgiven,” “Gran Torino,” “Changeling,” and the rest of the later Eastwood films.

    P.S. the “code word” I have to type in is “human,” take note Hollywood.

  3. George’s sister
    August 11, 2009 at 09:16 | #3

    I go to a lot of movies, one of my main hobbies.

    I liked Gran Torino very much because it actually had some kind of decent plot (as opposed to the majority of other films), the ending was unusual and intelligent (he got ‘em—-the bad guys would have to pay), it exposed the stupidity of gangs and racial intolerance and portrayed different human beings very accurately.

    I wanted to recommend it to my mother, but wasn’t sure how she would take the violence, so held back.  I did tell her it was good and left the decision making to her.

    The music was touching and tender, a foil to the craggy Eastwood persona.

    Glad you got to see it George and Diane.

  4. cindy
    August 11, 2009 at 17:07 | #4

    George, this is an excellent review!  You could get paid as a reviewer.  Diane had mentioned this in one of her blogs, and after reading this, we’ll be renting it for sure.  Gordon is a huge Eastwood fan already.

    Keep reviewing!

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