January 9th, 2009

GRAN TORINO (2008) ****

The previews made Gran Torino look like Grumpy Old Death Wish, but there is a lot more going on than just that.  Even though it’s kind of a bait-and-switch, I really didn’t mind.  Would I’ve loved to see Clint Eastwood pulling a Charles Bronson and wiping out gangbangers with a Wildey?  Sure.  Am I glad that the flick was actually a sincerely moving character piece about a crotchety old curmudgeon who says racial slurs as much as he says the word “the”, who actually learns to care about his “gook” neighbors?  Abso-fucking-lutely.


What goes down is Walt Kowalski (Clint) is pissed because his wife just died.  He’s pissed that his sons are pussies and that his grandkids text message during funeral services, wear belly button rings and have no goddamn manners.  He’s pissed that he’s got Asian neighbors.  He’s pissed that a snot nosed priest wants to him to give confession.  Basically, he’s just pissed and drinks Pabst’s Blue Ribbon like it’s going out of style. 


Walt also has a badass ’72 Gran Torino and when his teenage Asian neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) tries to steal it during a gang initiation, Walt gets even more pissed.  When the gang retaliates and tries to beat the snot out of Thao, Walt brings out his service rifle and threatens to blow them away.  Not because they were going to beat the kid up you understand, but because they were on his lawn. 


Afterwards, Thao’s family thanks Walt and gives him gifts and stuff, but since he’s perpetually pissed off, he hoots and hollers a lot.  One day Thao’s sister, Sue (Ahney Her) invites Walt for a barbeque.  Walt declines because he’s pissed off, but when he finds out they got beer he says okay.  Then he learns that “gooks” are pretty cool people because they don’t eat dogs like he thought they did.  Soon, he and Thao are hanging out and Walt starts teaching Thao how to be a real man by doing Bob Villa type shit and spouting out racial expletives at Italians. 


Then the gang burns Thao’s face with a cigarette.  Walt gets pissed off so he smashes in a gangbanger’s face.  Then the gang rapes Sue.  This gets Walt REALLY pissed. 


I won’t tell you the rest, cuz Eastwood the director does a really nice twist on the expected Death Wish scenario that brings a touching closure to not only the film but to his character as well.  I also appreciated how Walt still remained his usually crusty self after he became friends with his neighbors.  A lot of movies would’ve pussied out and made their hero less of a potty mouth, but Gran Torino is more realistic.  And that’s essentially why Gran Torino works so well.  It doesn’t insult the audience intelligence.  It knows that 80 something year old dudes don’t change overnight and the fact that Walt actually starts to connect with his neighbors is character development enough. 


I’ve read a lot of reviews that label Walt as a racist, but I think that’s unfair.  Walt hates EVERYBODY.  Even the people that Walt can kinda sorta tolerate like his barber; he calls them a “Dago” and stuff.  He’s not a racist, just an equal opportunity offender equipped with a top notch Bullshit Detector.  It’s just his defense mechanism.  Thao and Sue actually break down that wall and once he starts to like them, Walt becomes something of a father figure to them.  


One small complaint I did have with the flick is that sometimes it hammered home a couple points redundantly.  Like the scene where Walt’s in the bathroom during the barbeque and he says, “I have more in common with these people than I do my own family!”  Duh.  We know that.  We can that see for ourselves Clint.  I’ll let Clint slide on this though since this movie is mostly aimed at the 60+ crowd who need every little thing spoon fed to them.


Okay, so that’s one tiny thing I didn’t like about the movie.  Let’s talk about the good shit.  And by good shit I mean Clint.  Clint IS the whole show.  His character is in nearly every scene and man is he ever awesome in this flick.  It’s easily one of his best performances of his career, and that’s saying something.  He’s definitely going to give Stallone a run for his money for Best Actor come Video Vacuum Award time. 


Also, the man sings his own fucking theme song.  It sounds like Keith Richards ate a mouthful of glass.  In short, put that fucking shit on your ipod NOW. 


I would nominate the line “Get off my lawn!” as the best line of the flick, but I have to say Clint’s growl in this movie says it all.  Every time somebody rubbed him the wrong way (which is about every five minutes); he would let out this disgruntled growl that never failed to bring the house down.  Shit man, the audience was laughing more at this movie than any comedy I’ve been to this year. 


Another thing that made this movie great was that it made my wife cry at the end.  Not since the little Root Baby got tossed into the fireplace in Pan’s Labyrinth have I seen her bawl this much at a movie.  Definitely a great date movie. 


In short, Gran Torino shoots up to Number 7 on the Video Vacuum Top Ten, wedged in between Son of Rambow and Tropic Thunder. 


Speaking of prestigious honors, I should be announcing the nominees for the coveted Video Vacuum Awards around the first of February.  I would love to give them out on January 1st, but since our theater never gets the Academy Awardsy type stuff until after the New Year, I’m going to hold off another month.  See you then…