Movie Review: Gran Torino
By Matthew Huntley
December 29, 2008
Always lingering is the threat of the local gang, who want revenge against Thao and the old man. When something tragic happens, Walt becomes his new neighbors' unofficial protectors. Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), a young priest who promised Walt's wife he'd get him to come to confession, tries to guide him away from potential acts of violence.
Gran Torino is about many things. It's about learning to love and accept people who are different; it's about reconciliation; it's about forgiveness; it's about faith; it's about family; it's about friendship; it's about revenge; it's about sacrifice. All of these subjects are obvious to us when we're watching the film, and Eastwood doesn't try to be subtle. The scenes involving the gangs are the most powerful and it was entertaining to see an old man like Eastwood kick some butt, even if it wasn't exactly surprising given his reputation in westerns and the Dirty Harry franchise.
But even with its heavy themes, Gran Torino lacks a certain complexity and energy. Eastwood keeps it all too straightforward and every character is rigidly defined. Everything in the movie is what it is and that's that. There's no sense of adventure or ambiguity in regards to the characters or storytelling, so it's not as "fun" to watch as other serious dramas, if you know what I mean. Even the cinematography is mostly comprised of still shots and the dialogue often sounds like rambling.
I think Eastwood wants us to take everything at face value. We always know what the characters are thinking and we aren't really challenged to interpret their personalities or motivations otherwise. This method didn't work for me. I'm aware that life isn't always complicated and can sometimes be straightforward, but that doesn't necessarily make for compelling drama, at least not in this case.
Another problem is the acting, which isn't up to the standards of Eastwood's previous efforts. I'm referring mostly to the young Vang and Her as the two Hmong teenagers. They're clearly not experienced actors and they unfortunately make it easy for us to tell. Their delivery sounds artificial and they lack conviction. I'm not trying to be mean, but because we know Eastwood has garnered such great performances from other actors in years past, seeing these two perform was troubling.
Perhaps my standards are too high, but when I go to a Clint Eastwood film, I expect something more daring and emotional than Gran Torino. Eastwood has a good story on his hands, but the manner in which he handles it is too direct and bland. Yes, there are some profound themes here, but they're not explored beyond the obvious. Everything is, simply, what it is, and although the film does have some meaning and truth behind it, there's not enough narrative vigor for it to be considered essential viewing.