Friday, December 19, 2008

Gran Torino Review

After watching previews for this movie, I couldn't help but ask myself, "why the hell is this movie called Gran Torino anyway?" Oh, it's the name of a car that is supposed to have some great significance to this movie. Stupid title, check. Next movie I make will be entitled 'Road Trip: Aztek' because it's based on a road trip taken with the fabled Pontiac Aztek.

Acclaimed actor and director Clint Eastwood feebly attempts to capture a diverse audience's full attention with his new flick, Gran Torino. With its painfully overt racial tensions/slurs coupled with Clint Eastwood's intentional (and self-directed) lack of emotional performance a la ‘Dirty Harry,’ this film fails to evoke the proper response it's yearning to capture.

Set in my home state of Michigan, Gran Torino chronicles the final stages of Korean War vet Walt Kowalski's (played by Clint Eastwood) life. It begins with a very stark and blunt tone and never strays from that. Walt's wife has just passed away and he continues his life the only way he knows how; He's a stalwart American that lives in an urban, racially divided neighborhood overrun by the Hmong people and the neighboring Hispanics. He is blatantly racist, stubbornly resistant to change, and plays up the stereotypical, old and grumpy veteran attitude. When his neighbor’s teenage son attempts to steal his cherry condition 1972 Gran Torino, Walt unexpectedly throws himself into a war between the Hmong gang members and his neighborhood residents. He is forced to interact with his neighbors, who begin respecting him more and more as starts shedding his tough exterior. This begins a slow, but forced transformation of Walt into a more compassionate and caring individual who ultimately makes some major sacrifices for the greater good of the community.

The premise holds it’s own on paper and was most likely a fairly solid script. What this film really lacks is emotion and resonance. The dialogue exchanges between Eastwood and every character feel scripted and contrived. The lack of authenticity within many of the scenes makes it very difficult to feel any sort of sympathy for many of the characters. This film had a potentially unique premise, but was thwarted by poor execution and equally disjointed dialogue.

What saves this movie is its surprisingly accurate take on America and racism today. We now live in a country where, in many urban areas and some suburban zones, white Americans are often the outnumbered ethnicity, even in neighborhoods that were once run by those very people. In turn, people have developed a new form of reverse-racism, where the once dominant Caucasians have been forced to look at diversity as a minority. The racial divide between old and new America portrayed in the film is quite intriguing, but worth delving into deeper on a more sentimental and poignant level.

Grade: C+


Steve said...

i wonder if you dislike all of his recent performances...
An example of "Clint Eastwood's intentional (and self-directed) lack of emotional performance" that was more affecting than affected is Million Dollar Baby. I think the stone face is a performance that works most solidly on intensely personal matters, where the audience can imagine inner anguish, and not on harrying, socially strained situations, where we have trouble separating a complex, vulnerable veteran from, oh, say, chuck norris. i haven't seen gran torino yet, but i can imagine what you're saying here.
His character in MDB, on the other hand, is a stranger who becomes like family to the girl he coaches, so he's always on the cusp of a number of things the whole time, and every word out of him is a negotiation between different impulses; as a result the stoney look goes for miles. the film could have kept on going for hours, even after the crucial act, once that character became real.

Alex said...

I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of Eastwood's recent body of work, but I certainly do respect it. I enjoyed Million Dollar Baby and thought he did an excellent job in directing both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.
I thought that Gran Torino fell short of anything prolific and I simply didn't buy his performance. As mentioned, I was really turned off by the forced dialogue exchanges and the lack of emotional attachment to Eastwood and the rest of the main characters. I simply couldn't get into the movie.
I'd be interested to see what you think of the film after seeing it, so check it out and let's talk.

Aaron said...

Just saw Gran Torino the other night.

I liked it. Would probably raise Alex's C+ to a B and possibly an A is Clint gave me the Gran Torino and all those tools.

But I agree with Alex on the downfalls of the script. I walked away thinking the writing could have made this movie something special. Eastwood did well, telling more of the story without words or former dialogue but through his grunts and under-the-breath racial slurs.

I especially thought the writing failed Ahney Her's character, Sue. She wasn't real at all. No one talks like that, not even super-smart bulls-eye stereotype Asians. The script fails her character and thus I never was drawn to her. This became apparent when Sue is attacked, I wasn't overcome with grief. I hardly knew her.

Definitely a movie to check out, especially if you are from Michigan.

Anonymous said...

The girl who played Sue went to one of the high schools in the Lansing Public School District. A high school that has a lot of my cases. Just thought I would throw that out there, not sure if LSD's Drama department is known for creating phenomenal talent...

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