Thursday, January 15, 2009

Growling Against The Dying Of The Light: GRAN TORINO - The Film Babble Blog Review

GRAN TORINO (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2008)

78-year old Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is recently widowed and just wants to be left alone. He growls, grunts, and snarls at everyone around him, especially wet behind the ears Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) who had promised Walt’s wife he would look after him.
As one of the only white residents in his working class Detroit neighborhood he sits on his front porch drinking PBRs and growling at everybody in his sight, and life itself it seems. Against his will he falls in with a Hmong family next door when teenage son Thao (Bee Vang) attempts to steal Walt’s prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino as a gang initiation. 
Walt easily scares him off with a rifle, one of many guns in the Korean War vet’s collection. When the gang appears and causes a late night ruckus in the yards in front of Walt ’s and his neighbors house. Again Walt’s rifle appears and he emits his greatest growl yet: “Get off of my lawn! ”
Though it’s hardly an unfamiliar character for Eastwood, GRAN TORINO proves there’s a lot of fight left in the iconic actor. Walt uses a lot of racist expressions - “Dragon lady,” “gooks,” and even tells off color jokes like: “A Mexican, a Jew, and a colored guy go into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “ ‘Get the fuck out of here!’” Yet, you just know he’s got a heart of gold hiding behind a shield of sneers. 

Walt becomes a gravely hesitant hero on his street and forms an unlikely friendship with Thao and his sister Sue Lor (Ahney Her) as the threat of gang violence looms large. Walt slowly begins to feel more of a sense of family with his neighbors than with his own offspring - his 2 glib sons played in perfectly passive manner by Brian Howe and Brian Haley.

This is one Helluva movie; it does for Clint Eastwood what THE APOSTLE (1997) did for actor/director Robert Duvall, that is provide a powerful platform for a mighty myth maker late in the game. It plays to every strength that Eastwood possesses while it consistently shines like the bodywork on his crusty character’s classic car. DIRTY HARRY (1970), my personal favorite of Eastwood’s films, has come up quite a bit in the hype and reaction to this film but I believe Walt Kowalski would probably not get along very well with Inspector Harry Callahan. 

Sure, they’re both crusty uncompromising hard asses who growl gruffly and carry big guns but Callahan was a signpost of a different era (despite that the series went well into the 80’s), it’s doubtful he would age into the curmudgeon that Kowalski embodies.

Both a well crafted character study and a witty window into communal relations (albeit a surface one), GRAN TORINO is a movie with a fire in its belly. As the #1 movie in the country right now It is already taking its place among the spaghetti westerns and gritty cop dramas that made Eastwood famous. It won’t be at all surprising if it takes its place among his many award wins * soon as well.

* It is surprising that Eastwood has won 5 Oscars but none of them were for acting - maybe this year will be different.

So will GRAN TORINO make The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2008 list? Stay tuned to find out. 

More later...


Anonymous said...

Clint Eastwood used his outward crankiness to come across as tough and yet also heroic at the same time, good job

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel. Great blog. You have a new fan from the New York Film Academy. Looking forward Gran Torino...going to see it this weekend.