Grumpy old man
Gran Torino, with Clint Eastwood at the helm—his second directing effort of 2008 after the very good Changeling—is a sloppy movie that casts the man himself as a grousing, racist ass searching for some kind of redemption. It feels like a rush job, and it probably was.
Eastwood plays Walt, a Korean War vet and retired factory worker disgruntled about the growing Asian population in his beloved Detroit. Walt just lost his wife and can’t stand his two sons and their families. He casually uses slurs like “gook” and “zipperhead"—often straight into the faces of his Asian neighbors. When Thao (Bee Vang), the teenaged boy from next door, tries to steal his prized ‘72 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation, it causes the racist part of Walt’s personality—which comprises about 97 percent—to boil over.
Things are already bad in the neighborhood when Thao’s cousin and gang step on Walt’s lawn during a nighttime confrontation. Walt gets out the old reliable rifle, and Clint consequently dusts off his Dirty Harry persona. The gang far outnumbers Walt with people and weaponry, toting multiple Uzis to counter Walt’s 50-year-old firearm. They still cower and run when the old bastard growls at them.
Of course, the movie would have no purpose if Walt remained the hateful racist pig that he is. So he gradually becomes a hateful racist pig with a jolly sense of humor, sort of like Archie Bunker with a big gun and a hair trigger. He takes Thao to a local racist barber, where they playfully exchange racist barbs and laugh it up. At one point, the barber actually points a gun in the kid’s face while delivering those playful racist barbs. Just like your barber used to do back in the olden days!
The supporting players come off like cheap Hollywood stereotypes played by bad actors. A youngish priest (Christopher Carley) who tries to elicit a confession from Walt is so annoying and badly played, it’s hard to buy the notion of Walt warming up to him. Bee Vang seems like a likeable enough young fellow, but his acting is worthy of a Raspberry Award when his character needs to dial it up. Ahney Her, who plays Walt’s young and tough neighbor Sue, is stiff and inconsistent at best.
Eastwood even seems like a caricature of himself, overdoing it with the scowls and growls and grimaces. This is also one of those movies where a main character is constantly coughing up blood at parties. It’s always amusing how Hollywood characters like Walt and Doc Holliday can cough up huge globules of blood into their hand one moment, and then kick the ass of somebody far more imposing than them the next.
This is a movie where a 78-year-old man is able to yank a thug at least 50 years younger than him off a porch and repeatedly punch him in the face.
There’s a scene where gang members harass Thao as he walks along reading a book. Who walks and reads books at the same time? Has anybody ever seen somebody intently reading a piece of thick literature as they walk along an inner city street? You have to keep your eyes free for stuff like dog shit and people with guns. It’s probably supposed to show that the character is sweet and introspective because he reads. The only time it’s safe to read and walk is in a vast open field, and even then you risk attack by marauding dogs and crows.
Eastwood is a talented director and actor, and Gran Torino isn’t void of good moments. A quick shot where Walt applies jumper cables to a car, directly after berating Thao for requesting them during his time of mourning, is a nice, subtle touch. Too bad the rest of the film has all the subtlety of a medium-sized planet populated with obese dinosaurs landing on your head.