Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau .  Viewed at The Riviera Theatre, Santa Barbara, Ca.

If you’re the kind of politically correct, easily offended person who cannot wait to ruin the good times of those who enjoy the kind of off color humor that Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Gran Torino , is brimming with then please stay away.  For the rest of us with a sense of humor and enough sense not to take a racial joke too seriously this film is for us.  The racial slurs never stop.  It is mean, offensive, and totally hilarious.  For many directors this would be their greatest film in many years.  For Clint Eastwood it is merely his latest great film.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a crusty old man, stubborn in his ways who cannot stand his two sons, their wives, their decoratively pierced daughter, or for that matter, pretty much anyone outside of a few old manly friends.  With one of the few people Walt actually likes, his barber, they trade racial barbs as brutally offensive as can be from beginning to end and smile to themselves about it when the other is out of sight.  This is how men speak to each other.  Walt’s wife dies and he is now on his own in a neighborhood that has been slowly taken over by the Hmong population.  Walt’s neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang), is pressured by a Hmong gang into trying to steal Walt’s 1972 Gran Torino.  When he fails the gang again tries to pressure Thao into their group, but he wants no part of it.  When the struggle spills over into Walt’s lawn he brings out the guns and forces the gang off his property.  The neighborhood views Walt as a hero and he makes friends with Thao’s sister, Sue (Ahney Her), who has earned his respect.  Thao begins working for Walt to make amends for trying to steal his car and Walt begins teaching the weak Thao how to be a man.

The first thing I have to say is it is okay to laugh.  This movie is funny and it is meant to be funny so lighten up.  The second thing I have to say is this movie is not all laughs.  Just like Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby this film takes a sharp turn to tragedy.  Eastwood is remarkable as Walt, expressing his rugged toughness like no other, but playing the role for comedy to let us enjoy Walt’s stubborn, racist, tough guy ways without being offended.  Nick Schenk’s witty screenplay gives Eastwood one of the best roles of his career, and some of the best dialogue Eastwood has ever spoken.  I guess by now we should expect it from Eastwood, but it is still amazing the level of artistry this man has been achieving in his waning years, and the scary and delightful thing is, with two films this year, he shows no sign of slowing down or fading away.  Here’s to a long life for Eastwood because we’re the better for it.

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