January 9, 2009 Gran Torino
Studio: Warner Bros. Rating: R for language throughout and some violence.
In a role that may end up serving as the capstone to a remarkable acting career Clint Eastwood stars in "Gran Torino."
Thanks to the privilege of doing this segment I get to see a lot of movies. I mean, I see a lot of movies. But I rarely get excited like I did for this one.
Eastwood is a true Hollywood legend, like a John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart. And we may not see him very much more in front of a camera, so "Gran Torino" represents a great chance to appreciate this iconic leading man.
He plays Walt Kowalski, an aging Korean War veteran and retired auto worker who isn't very happy with the way things are going in his neighborhood.
Recently widowed, Kowalski doesn't like the fact his new neighbors all seem to be from southeast Asia. And he really gets perturbed when a young man named Thao (newcomer Bee Vang) tries to steal his prized car the movie is named for.
But the robbery is stopped and Thao's mother insists her son work for Walt to take care of his debt for dishonoring the family.
After Walt reluctantly agrees they begin to develop a new relationship. He becomes a father figure to the fatherless young man.
But don't let Walt's act of kindness fool you. He's still tough as nails and eventually has to deal with a gang of thugs to protect Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her).
Besides starring, Eastwood also directs "Gran Torino" and in both capacities he is fantastic. Walt reminded me of Eastwood's marine gunnery sergeant Thomas Highway from "Heartbreak Ridge." In fact, there are lines in this movie which evoke Eastwood's most famous creation, "Dirty Harry."
This is a tough old guy who doesn't take anything from anybody. But he's not beyond learning and changing. His initial feelings about his neighbors begin to thaw after meeting them. And especially after enjoying some of their native food.
While the rest of the cast is relatively unknown they do serviceable work. In fact, Vang and Her more than hold their own on-screen with Eastwood.
But make no mistake, he is the absolute star and driving force of this film. Walt will make you laugh but he may also make you think about your perception of others.
No one can play a rough and ready guy like Eastwood and he is in top form here. Although Eastwood is a two-time Oscar winner as a director he's never won for his acting. This is the role that should earn him a much-deserved Best Actor Academy Award.
On my rating scale, "Gran Torino" hits a Home Run. Eastwood is fantastic and I loved it.
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