Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review - Gran Torino

A recently widowed Korean War vet, Walt Kowalski who is completely abbrasive and dejected from his family, church and neighborhood spends his days mowing his picture perfect lawn, tinkering with his tools, and babying his cherry 1972 Ford Gran Tornio. Adding to the disgruntled veterans constant resentment, his new Hmong neighbors teenage son Tao, is pressured by a local gang to steal his cherished Gran Torino. After a failed attempt by Tao, Walt Kowalski reclutantly begins to reform the teenage boy ultimately becoming, against his will, drawn into Tao's family.

Director/actor Clint Eastwood in his final performance in front of the camera, brings his tour de force, with a bitter sweet delivery brimming with spiteful speech and disconnected feelings of a malcontent veteran who looks towards a generation and neighborhood that he no longer recognizes in Gran Torino. The film tells through, Clint's masterful direction and his tougher than nails persona, a moving story of a unapologetic elderly man who befriends a troubled teenage boy and his culturally different family. Eastwood with absolute precision in his direction, focuses on Kowalski's scornful and slow progression into the Hmong family's life. Eastwood moves the film along with a steady progression that mirrors Walt's growth of letting go of his past. With brilliant symbolism, Eastwood depicts Kowalski's insensitive and memory filled past. His Gran Torino, pointing to his time working on the line at the Detroit Ford plant, his M-1 military issue riffle and zippo lighter from the Korean War, each holding vital memories that contribute to his unpleasant demeanor and callous civility towards everyone that he comes in contact with. Gran Torino's lesson, comes from the people Kowalski would have least expected it and his journey getting there is powerfully portrayed by Eastwood, resulting in an absolute pleasure to watch.

Clint Eastwood delivers a shocking and inspiring performance, one that only he and his undeniable disposition could produce. Eastwood, in his quoted final performance, is Oscar worthy being absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Every glance, grumble and grimmace that Eastwood constantly bears throughout Gran Torino comes across in compelling fashion, evoking both contempt and compassion for the disgruntled vet, Walt Kowalski. The dialogue throughout is far from politically correct and comes hard and fast in a disturbingly witty form. His every delivery demands attention and has the viewer glued to every word with lines like, "Ever noticed how you come across somebody once in a while, that you shouldn't of fucked with...that's me!" and "Now I've got blood on my hands, I'm soiled. That's why I'm going it alone." Eastwood's wicked portrayal of the insensitive retired vet that uses racial slurs and stereotypes in a unapologetic manner is brutal in moments, but is eloquently overshadowed with an honest and moving story of one man's slow acceptance of a different culture.

The supporting cast in Gran Torino adds a wonderful raw sense of reality to Walt Kowalski's border-line bigot outlook. Christopher Carley in a impressive performance plays Father Janovich, who is hellbent on seeing to Mr. Kowalski's wifes final wishes, of her husband attending confessional at their local parish. Carley and Eastwood's screen time together is riveting and gives the viewer a real understanding to the level of Walt's disconnection and discontent with the younger generation of America. The outshining performances come from the Hmong neighbors that Kowalski comes in much closer contanct than he ever desired. In his first role, Bee Vang wonderfully depicts a confused teen Tao Lor, who has just moved into a dangerous neighborhood. When Tao is taken to the barber by Walt to learn how "real men talk," the ensuing scene is hilarious while also being noteworthy to Walt's development in their relationship. The fact that Walt would take (as he calls him) "Toad" to a trusted friends business, bodes well towards the decent of his resentment towards his new neighbors. Tao's sister Sue is played by Ahney Her, who also brings a remarkable performance for her first acting gig. The Kowalski family, who like the rest of society, are detached from Walt bring heartsick performances of sons who have lost all touch with their abrasive and foul mouthed father. Brian Haley playing Walt's son Mitch, shares a few scenes with Eastwood where you can feel the desire to connect with his father, but Walt's dejected and tenacious spirit forces the two apart everytime. The result is a captivating rush of emotions that feels utterly bitter sweet.

Gran Torino is a glorious tale of a man's desire to hold on to his scornful past and the unknowingly developments that help him let go. Clint Eastwood brings a unmatchable energy and delivery that is imprinted into memory and well deserving of Oscar nomination. The third act to Gran Torino is perfect and brings home an flawlessly exectued life lesson film. Eastwood is brilliant behind the camera, but the triumph comes from his performance of Walt Kowalski. Every moment on screen, Eastwood magnificently brings his one of a kind demeanor that drips of masculinity, keeping the viewer compeled by the non-stop foul mannered dialogue and vengance filled frown. The result of Eastwood's stellar direction and performance combined with the compelling story of acceptance and honor creates an unquestionable success that is well deserving of very high acclaim.