Rated R for language throughout, and some violence, 116 minutes
The entertaining "Gran Torino" channels an older, crustier Dirty Harry
"Gran Torino" is Clint Eastwood's most accessible film in years, and provides with a look at what Dirty Harry would be like if he was older and funnier. Directed by and starring Eastwood, it provides Eastwood with his first acting role since 2004's ultra-heavy "Million Dollar Baby" and what could be his last onscreen role. "Gran Torino" is well-acted and still tackles some serious themes, but it's a dramatic film that's far more enjoyable and more humorous than you might think.
Eastwood is Walt Kowlaski, a retired Korean War Veteran who is recently widowed and still residing in the same neighborhood for the last 50 years, though its changed in recent years with Hmong (Chinese origin) immigrants, including his next door neighborhood Thao and Sue (non-actors Bee Vang and Ahney Her, respectively). Walt is somewhat of a crusty, racist bigot and dislikes most people, including his own family and especially the young fresh faced priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), who promised Walt's wife he'd look after him.
Thao is unsuccessfully drawn into a local gang and after a failed attempt to steal Walt's prized possession, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, Thao wants to better himself. Walt eventually becomes friends with Thao, Sue and their family and helps to protect them after the gang roughs them up. But Walt puts everything on the line in order for Thao and Sue to have a better life.
"Gran Torino" is an entertaining, enjoyable film that's far more conventional and lighter in tone than some of Eastwood's recent efforts. That's not to say that Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Mystic River" or "Million Dollar Baby" weren't great films - they were all in fact excellent films - but "Gran Torino" harkens back to some of Eastwood's lighter films of the '70's and '80's, after all, this is the same guy that made the "Every Which Way But Loose" films.
All those serious films made us forget that Eastwood still has a sense of humor, and as Walt, he's grouchy, growling and just plain grumpy, seemingly bigoted though his actions in the end prove otherwise. Eastwood's solid direction and engaging performance highlight the film, though the script has too many predictable touches - his newfound friends softening him up, though that is
part of the Eastwood appeal. Vang and Her, both newcomers and non-actors, do a serviceable job in "Torino" though more skilled actors would've probably made more of an impact.
Eastwood can still hold a gun with the best of them, reminding of an older, crustier and much grouchier retired Dirty Harry (or Josey Wales, take your pick). Eastwood's performance isn't the strongest of the year, but is certainly one of the more entertaining and don't be surprised if he's Oscar-nominated for it. Many will also find "Gran Torino's" climax as being too anti-climactic, maybe even contrived, but it's still watchable.
"Gran Torino" is a powerful reminder of the bridges that still exist between different societies, not to mention of an older generation that's often forgotten. Entertainining and touching, "Gran Torino" is Eastwood in memorable form and is recommended holiday viewing. And yes, that's Eastwood singing over the end credits - a song he wrote and composed (he's also an accomplished musician) for the film - and Golden Globe nominated for it.