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Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Abney Her,
I guess once you become a Hollywood icon of the titan stature of Clint Eastwood, all kinds of opportunities open up. You no longer have to surround yourself with experienced well-known performers or established writers and you can make any move you feel like. That explains Gran Torino, an uneven drama that would surely have even Hollywood’s boldest producers running for cover with its wall to wall spread of racial slurs laced into a formula tale of an angry grizzled hero coming to grips with his racist views (well, he sorta comes to grips with them, anyway). Clint is mesmerizing in this cantankerous role, but is really getting a bit old for the punch em up stuff, and is way too old for showing his stuff in a bathtub scene. Okay, its not like they show the drill and its bits, but 80 yr old actors don’t need to be showing anything anymore. His supporting cast ranges from acceptable to regrettable, and the story needed more work, but the overall project is better than you may expect, albeit only a little better.
Steely-eyed Clint is a recently widowed Korean war vet named Walt Kowalski, whose dated and racist attitudes and uncontrollable razor tongue has estranged his family, but endeared his friends. Walt’s neighbourhood is acquiring a real multi-color flavour and he’s not happy about it, Goddamnit! He’s even less happy when the quiet Hmong teen next door, Thao, played by Bee Vang, who struggles with the poorly written role, tries to steal Walt’s treasured, mint condition, 1972 Gran Torino. I understand how he feels. I can only imagine what I would do if someone tried to mess with my mint 1981 Chevy Citation, but I digress. Anyways, Thao is actually under pressure to join a local Hmong gang, and when Clint inadvertently saves his neighbours from trouble during a slightly over-zealous lawn defence, he becomes something of a Hmong hero. They cheerfully dismiss his constant barrage of racially motivated foul insults for some reason and are soon having him over for dinner. Come on! Are you kidding me??? Abney Her has a juicy role as Thao’s older sister, Sue, whose no-nonsense and unflappable character is a joy to watch, but really the whole thing is as easy to swallow as a big chunk of beef gristle. You can guess where this going, and soon Clint is the family’s foul-mouthed guardian angel. Hmmm, but what these Hmong gang bangers? What can an irascible old war vet do about a few environmentally challenged youths expressing their frustration in an anti-social manner?
Gran Torino is an uneven mix of interesting and stereotypical characters mixed up in an unsuccessful attempt to update the Walking Tall story line of one man who’s had enough of local criminals. Once you throw all this into the tinsel town blender, you get a mediocre film that has an Archie Bunker character trying to be both Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson in the endless Death Wish series) and Mr. Miyagi. Clint is really a lot better at the tough guy role and was hard to buy as the warm fuzzy father figure. Clint fans may consider it money well-spent and, since I consider myself one, I did want to see this and I don’t regret it. I do regret that Clint didn’t use all his power and influence to make a slightly better movie. Oh, well maybe next time