Gran Torino

****½

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) catches his teen aged neighbor, Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang) trying to steal his mint condition 1972 Gran Torino as an initiation into a gang and the teen’s mother punishes him by making him Walt’s personal handyman for a week. Walt, who just wants people to stay off his lawn, grudgingly gets to know his Hmong neighbors in this new movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

The first job of any movie should be to entertain the audience. Eastwood has definitely fulfilled that requirement with this movie. Story aside, just watching Eastwood in Gran Torino was entertaining enough. I don’t think you really see this kind of acting any more, where a mere glance, or in Clint’s case a growl, says so much. This performance reminded me of the legendary Spencer Tracy, whose facial expressions could tell the story without ever uttering a word.

All the actors in this movie were very good, under the direction of Eastwood, but the real find was Ahney Her, who plays Bee Vang’s sister, Sue Lor. Her, making her feature film debut, was so natural in her performance, stealing every scene. I look forward to seeing Her in her next movie (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

The social commentary of Gran Torino did not distract from the story at all, a testament to Eastwood’s direction. Some might call Eastwood’s character of Walt Kowalski a racist, but I don’t see it that way. Obviously, he is prejudiced, as he has seen his neighborhood turn from predominantly white to predominantly Asian. Saying Kowalski is old school is an understatement. A retired Ford autoworker and Korean War veteran, who just buried his wife, this character is a dying breed. I think it took courage to play Kowalski so politically incorrect. I can’t remember a character who uttered so many racial slurs coming across so lovable.

Personally, I find myself very sensitive to any racial slur, but for some reason, Eastwood was able to pull this off without coming across as completely offensive. Sure, sometimes he uttered his slurs with venom, but other times it was just his way of talking. He is from a time where people earned their nicknames from their physical defects. A time where mentioning someone’s race was par for the course, when you described them. Maybe we are all just too sensitive to the power of words these days, I don’t know.

Go watch Gran Torino. You won’t regret it.


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