Gran Torino

Gran Torino

****

 

In a review for “The Changeling,” I asserted that Clint Eastwood was losing his touch and should be forced to check into “cinematic assisted living.”

I’m sorry, Mr. Eastwood. I was wrong. Please don’t shoot me.

“Gran Torino” is a splendid return to form: an entertaining, funny, heartwarming tale. It is a well-paced crowd-pleaser that everyone will like, and a first rate character study with enough substance and sophistication to keep art house snobs satisfied.

The best thing about Clint Eastwood the director has always been Clint Eastwood the ACTOR. The septuagenarian star still has a magnificent screen presence and a terrific sense of humor. And Eastwood knows how to tweak his tough guy image to create interesting characters and use them to explore the effects of violence on the American male psyche.

In “Gran Torino,” Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski: a grizzled, angry widower who lives alone in a dangerous Detroit neighborhood that has grown racially diverse over the years, much to his dismay.

Walt has never been close with his children (the terse, meaningless conversations that he has with his sons are heartbreakingly realistic). Mostly he just spends his days drinking beer on the porch and glaring at his immigrant neighbors.

Walt unexpectedly finds meaning to his lonely life when he chases a group of menacing gang members off his lawn with a rifle. By accident, he becomes a neighborhood hero. And despite himself, he ends up befriending the sassy Asian girl next door and becoming a father figure to her shy, vulnerable brother.

What makes “Gran Torino” great is Clint Eastwood’s character. Walt is irresistibly likable. And not because he is some perfect guy! Walt is rude, insensitive, and bigoted. I mean REALLY bigoted. Walt casually tosses around ethnic slurs that you’d be surprised to hear from a drunken sailor with Tourette’s.

Somehow, all of Walt’s flaws only make him seem more realistic, and therefore more virtuous when he performs kind and selfless acts.

Another exciting thing about the character is that he is absolutely fearless. I’m sure every guy in the audience was with me in admiring Walt as he stood up to the bullies and thugs in his neighborhood – instead of fleeing to the suburbs like I would.

Clint Eastwood is one of the great entertainers of the past half century. “Gran Torino” may be his most enjoyable film and Walt Kowalski may be his most endearing character.

I love this movie.

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