January 15, 2009

Gran Torino

A modern-day Western, Gran Torino is the story of Walt Kowalski, a stubborn, "racist" widower who has nothing left to live for but his honor and manhood. You could easily set this movie in Arizona 100 years ago, with Clint as a Civil War vet, change the Hmong immigrants to Indians or Mexicans, and the movie would work perfectly. Gran Torino could be his horse instead of his car.grantorino

Clint is smart enough to take roles he's good at, and he was a pleasure to see in this movie. I never really believed Walt was really a racist- he spews an amazing variety of ethnic slurs, a ever-changing cornucopia of insults and offensive names, which was actually quite funny. The truth is, Walt has too much honor and decency to judge his neighbors unfairly- once he gets to know them. The two Hmong neighbors are played by newcomers Bee Vang as Thao, the teenaged neighbor who needs a strong father figure to avoid the gang life, and Ahney Her as his sister Sue, who befriends Walt with strength and honesty. I thought Ahney Her was quite talented and engaging, but I was never really convinced by Bee Vang.

The story is really quite plain and obvious, and the middle section is deadly slow. I liked the movie quite a lot, but it's easy to like a Clint Eastwood movie. In fact, when Clint Eastwood directs a movie, I think critics (and the Academy) give him a full letter-grade bump above what the movie really deserves. Why? First of all, he directs with restraint and class. Simplicity is the key, and there's no gloss or distractions. Secondly, he plays to his strengths, in directing and acting. He doesn't stretch himself, so he's always in his comfort zone. Third, he has such a consistent and quality track record, he gets the benefit of the doubt every time. Lastly, everyone in Hollywood loves him. (At Regal Fenway, screen 12, with Marc, Jeff, and Harry)