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Clint Eastwood Idles With Caricature Over Character in ‘Gran Torino’

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Average: 4.3 (16 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – With his second film in just a few months, Clint Eastwood makes one of his biggest missteps of his illustrious career as one of the more esteemed American directors in the history of the medium. Eastwood has made some undeniable masterpieces - “Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Unforgiven” - but he has been far from perfect, misfiring wildly with films like “Space Cowboys”, “The Rookie”, and “Pink Cadillac”. “Gran Torino” falls much closer to the latter category on Clint’s spectrum than the former.

Eastwood stars in “Gran Torino” as Walt Kowalski, a bitter, cranky, snarling old man, who is mean to his priest, vicious to his family, and racist to everyone in his increasingly ethnic neighborhood. Walt could be Clint’s iconic ‘Dirty Harry’ character a few years down the road from when we last saw him and a bit more racist. (In fact, there were rumors at one point that “Gran Torino” would be “Dirty Harry 6”. If only.)

Gran Torino opens from Warner Brothers on December 19, 2008.

Walt is a Korean War vet who seems to have entered a contest for the most ignorant, racist comments in the span of the running time of a movie. Can the Hmong family next door melt the ice around this grumpy old man’s heart? Can the vet with backbone to spare give some to the weak kid who lives next door? Why should we care again?

Gran Torino opens from Warner Brothers on December 19, 2008.

In the opening scenes, Walt’s wife has passed away and he’s growing increasingly distant from the rest of his family. The predictable and skin-deep plot doesn’t really get underway until the kindly Hmong teenager next door named Thao (Bee Vang) tries and fails to steal the only thing he loves - his 1972 Gran Torino. Walt just wants to be left alone by a world he hates more every day, but he’s sucked into a horrible written gang war when he saves Thao from an altercation on his neighbor’s front lawn because the poor kid couldn’t steal the car he was ordered to snag. Let’s hope “Get off my lawn” doesn’t take off like “Make my day.”

What first feels like it could be a “Deathwish” rip-off becomes something far scarier when Thao is forced by his family to become an indentured servant to Walt. The old man finds himself getting closer and closer to the immigrants that he used to hate and realizes that he has one last sacrifice to make.

The script for “Gran Torino” by Nicholas Schenk is paper-thin. Eastwood adds some likability to a few scenes with his only friend, a barber played by a great actor named John Carroll Lynch, and there are a few moments between the angry vet and the awkward teen that work, but Schenk is constantly pounding his audience over the head with his obvious themes. In case you don’t get that Walt is growing closer to the people he continuously derides, Schenk is there to point it out to you.

Perhaps the TV-movie nature of the screenplay wore off on the production because “Gran Torino” is Eastwood’s least interesting film visually in years. There’s a grace and a style to the cinematography of Eastwood regular Tom Stern in films like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River” that’s simply missing here. “Gran Torino” looks like it was made in two weeks for a TV broadcast. There’s nothing wrong with simple production value for a simple story but “Gran Torino” crosses from simple to visually dull.

Everything about “Gran Torino” is a cliche. Walt’s racism, the immigrants next door, the hilariously stereotypical gang members, even the stupid jokes that Walt tells - none of it feels real. And at the center of it all is the cliche of Clint Eastwood’s angry, snarling persona. There’s a difference between using a popular reputation as a commentary, which some critics have mistakenly seen in “Gran Torino”, and the caricature that’s really at the center of this misguided film.

‘Gran Torino’ stars Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Geraldine Hughes, Brian Haley, and John Carroll Lynch. ‘Gran Torino,’ which was written by Nick Schenk and directed by Clint Eastwood, opened in Chicago on December 19, 2008.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Modwild's picture

Perhaps you are the one who is mistaken

You say Schenk is pounding the audience over the head with various themes, but don’t mention one. You have cornered yourself with caricatures and cliches, but missed the real meat of this story. I won’t tell you what it is, however, because I wouldn’t want to beat you over the head with it.

Mike's picture

I just watched Gran Torino

I just watched Gran Torino yesterday. After reading the negative movie review by Brian Tallerico (the content director of HollywoodChicago.com) I decided to respond. I’m glad I watched “Gran Torino” first before I read his review. Or perhaps I wouldn’t have had the privilidge of watching an outstanding movie.
I am speaking for the MAJORITY of people!!! If you don’t believe me then just go to www.imdb.com The movies is presently rated 8.4 out of 10. Oh I forgot to mention that the movie Grand Torino has been voted by viewers as one of the top 250 movies of all-time! Yes there is a lot of racism and swearing etc. etc. Don’t take your kids to it unless you believe they are at an age to hear that kind of material. There is no nudity (except one belly button) sorry couldn’t resist that one :) The movie doesn’t condone racism! Clint Eastwoods character is obviously flawed! And yes also racist! But he also has a soft heart inside the hard shell that he puts over it. I don’t want to say too much about the movie. Except two words. “WATCH IT!” and to Clint Eastwood
THANK YOU!”

Nick D's picture

Still a great watch

Although I agree about the corniness of the gang members and some of the acting resembling a reenactment from “Unsolved Mysteries”, the movie is still awesome. Some of the lines by Eastwood are just classic, and only he could deliver them so well. “Back in Korea we used to stack dead nips like you 5 feet high, use em as sandbags”. Only Clint can get away with that. Or the hilarious “Stay away from my dog” when the neighbor refers to cooking. Alot of the other dialogue was obviously forced, but Clint makes the movie. I thought the girl and Tao also did a fine job.

Anonymous's picture

Good movie--worth the time

I hadn’t read much about Gran Torino,and I just went to see it last week. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Since I hadn’t read much about it, I was not at all prepared for Clint’s/Walt’s gradual approach to the 180 degree turn around. Well, maybe not 180, but clearly a move away from the racist position he holds at the beginning of the movie. Walt is old school—therefore he uses language that we would call “cliched;” his language is not of this time. There is no way Walt would know current language—he hasn’t left 1950 yet. His language is appropriate for his mindset and lifestyle that he lives: he is still fighting the Korean War, if you hadn’t noticed. He never learned to relate to his kids, and when he tries, it’s under the worst of circumstances. I think that the movie clearly shows that if his children had made the least bit of a move to reconcile with him, things would have been different in the movie, especially his will. The movie had some sad, very emotional moments, as well as some totally hilarious ones. I found Walt a very pathetic figure. The corner he backed himself into led to his demise, and that was totally unnecessary. Overall, I highly recommend it.

Gregg's picture

Gran Torino Reviewer - Brian Tallerico

From the opening line of this review, I realized how I should not waste my time reading the rest of Tallerico’s obviously narrow-minded empty liberal opinion. However, I figured a bed-wetting moron like him might actually deserve my response.

He writes: “Walt is a Korean War vet who seems to have entered a contest for the most ignorant, racist comments in the span of the running time of a movie”.

And, “the vet with backbone to spare give some to the weak kid who lives next door? Why should we care again?”

It seems to me that he is jealous of an American actually having a backbone.

Apparently all this guy has to offer life is to shoot off at the mouth about how bad an old-school American Patriot like Clint can produce low-score movies.

Get over yourself and your self esteem issues or feel free to leave the country.

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