Friday, June 26, 2009

Movie Notes--Gran Torino

Watched the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino the other night and enjoyed it quite a bit. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalksi, an angry and racist vet of the Korean War who has just buried his wife. A Hmong family moves in next door and when the teenage boy tries to steal his beloved car, events are set in motion that transform Walt and the young boy Thao (played superbly by Bee Vang).

While I am not sure this movie is as strong overall as films like Unforgiven, Mystic River or his moving World War II pictures, it is really good. Eastwood’s performance is so fine, I don’t think anyone could imagine another actor in the role after seeing this. In addition, Ahney Her, as Thao’s sister is magnificent, nearly stealing the show from Eastwood. Eastwood’s attention to detail, particularly the elements of Hmong culture, make the movie all that more interesting without detracting from the narrative.

What makes the movie most interesting, I think, are Walt’s conflicts. He is, at first, a man who just wants people (including his grown children) to leave him alone. But we find that despite his racism, he can care about neighbors. Though Walt has no desire for the church or the priest that tries to harangue him into confession, he does find its value when the priest can think past his easy answers. Walt is proud of his service in the war, but admits that killing is a messy, terrible business.

The climax of Gran Torino surprised me a little, but in a very good way. I felt the last few minutes were a little slow, and perhaps a little cliché, but not so much they mar this otherwise really fine film. At 78, Eastwood is still a great actor and fantastic director who always produces top-notch work.

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