Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
Directed by: Clint Easwood (“Million Dollar Baby”)
Written by: Nick Schenk (debut)
Sneaking his film “Gran Torino” in right before the end of the year (there was a limited released for Oscar contention in December) just like he did with “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 and “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006, director/actor Clint Eastwood always knows how to make an entrance and keep everyone else in Hollywood on their toes.
Eastwood’s save-the-best-for-last-strategy worked well a few years ago (“Letters” scored Best Picture and Best Director nominations while “Baby” went on to take both prizes), but for “Gran Torino,” the 78-year-old, four-time Academy Award-winner probably won’t have as much success. It’s another solid piece of work from Eastwood, but one that would easily feel ordinary without him taking the lead. Let’s just be thankful it wasn’t as surprisingly deficient as his first film in 2008, “Changeling.”
In “Tornio,” Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a grumpy Korean War veteran and ex-Ford worker living in Detroit who recently lost his wife and can’t relate to his two sons and their horribly ungrateful and selfish families. Walt’s no angel himself. He’s stubborn, hard to please, and bitter about more and more minorities moving into his neighborhood.
His only real happiness comes from the Gran Torino fastback parked in his garage, which seems to symbolize to him the purity of what once was a great country he was proud to serve. Walt is a patriot, but he’s also a bigot who can’t easily shake off his objection for anything or anyone foreign.
But when Walt unintentionally saves Thao (Bee Vang), one of his young Asian neighbors from an aggressive gang, an unlikely friendship forms between him and the boy, who days earlier was caught by Walt trying to steal his classic car. Despite a rough introduction, Walt slowly begins to see that Thao is not like the other boys who are trying desperately to get him to join their gang. Through Thao, Walt searches for his own salvation while doing everything he possibly can to guarantee the boy and his sister Sue (Ahney Her) have a chance to live an unthreatened life.
While it’s still possible Eastwood will garner a nomination for acting, “Torino” won’t follow in the footsteps of his other Best Picture nominees of the past. The story simply lacks in foundation. There’s really no reason Thao and Sue should even give a second glimpse to the racist that lives next door to them, but for whatever reason they do. Without any redeeming qualities to his personality, Walt is destined to die resentful and alone. But instead, debut screenwriter Nick Schenk decides to move the story along even as Walt harshly insults them by calling them “fish heads,” “nips,” and “gooks.” It’s really implausible to understand how Schenk is able to make Walt morph into a role model for the second half of the film. Eastwood capture’s Walt’s frustration and accepting nature wonderfully, but it would’ve been nice to actually see how he got there in the first place.