I enjoy Clint Eastwood films. I’ll admit it, I like watching westerns and Eastwood has been a part of some truly great ones. He has also gone on to do some wonderful pieces, such as Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima, and Gran Torino is another quality film he can add to that list. It’s not a great film and it isn’t going to win any awards, but Eastwood tells a wonderful story about a complicated man in an honest way. It may not be 100% believable and its a little corny at the end, but it has a message that we all need to hear.
For those of you who don’t know, Gran Torino is the story of an elderly man, Walt Kowalski, whose wife has just died. He is a grumpy racist whose old neighborhood has slowly turned into a Hmong neighborhood. While everyone around him has let their houses deteriorate, he has kept his in pristine condition, as well as his 1972 Gran Torino that he built himself while working for Ford in his earlier life. He has a past, he was in the military and it seems he has participated in some questionable activity. It is obvious that he loved his wife dearly but doesn’t seem to care much for anyone else, even his sons and grandchildren.
Kowalski becomes involved with his Hmong neighbors when he inadvertently saves Thao Lor (Bee Vang), the teenage boy who lives next door, from a Hmong gang. What follows is an awkward relationship between this coarse, sailor-mouthed old man, a shy teenage boy, and his outspoken headstrong older sister, Sue Lor (Ahney Her). Sue’s persistence to befriend Kowalski turns successful as he realizes that he has more in common with his Hmong neighbors than his own family. Kowalski’s friendship with the Lor siblings grows and all three learn something about themselves and the others. Old wisdom is passed on and new ideas are embraced.
The performances by Bee Vang and Ahney Her are hit and miss, lacking in some scenes and amazing in others. It’s painful to watch them interact with the local gangs. They are stiff and uncomfortable as actors instead of as characters. Eastwood spends the first half of the film grunting and the second half he manages a few lines. It’s his typical role and he does a good job at it, but it’s nothing new.
Despite the less than Academy quality acting, Gran Torino is a film I think everyone should see. It’s not for the faint of heart – there is blood and a post-rape scene that is particularly hard to watch – but the message of self-sacrifice and the good that is in each of us overpowers all that. This film touched my heart and reminded me why I love talking to the older generations. Their wisdom and experience is not something to be disregarded in the same way that each new generation’s youthful ideas should be embraced. We can learn from each other, help each other, and be there for each other – we just have to get past ourselves first.