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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.5%
Worth A Look: 27.5%
Average: 15%
Pretty Bad: 11.25%
Total Crap28.75%

4 reviews, 56 user ratings

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Gran Torino
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Park It Next To Clint's Pink Cadillac"
1 stars

Ever since it was announced earlier this year that Clint Eastwood would both direct and star (his first turn before the cameras since 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby”) in a mysterious new project titled “Gran Torino,” it has inspired any number of questions among film lovers. For starters, there was the question of whether Eastwood could actually begin shooting a film in the middle of the summer and have it completed and ready for release in time for this winter’s Oscar derby. Then there was the question of why he would attempt such a thing when he already had one high-profile project, “Changeling,” set for release and awards consideration just a couple of months before the scheduled release of the new project. Finally, there was the question what the film was supposed to be--while he and Warner Brothers were quick to shoot down wishful Internet speculation that it might be a new vehicle for his eternally popular Dirty Harry character, they weren’t as forthcoming when it came to explaining what this new project was supposed to be.

Unfortunately, it turns out that all of the idle speculation surrounding “Gran Torino” was far more entertaining than the embarrassingly hackneyed and inadvertently hilarious melodrama that is the result of all that speculation. This isn’t merely one of those dull and painfully earnest stabs at “serious” filmmaking that Eastwood has been indulging in more frequently in the last few years with the likes of “Changeling,” “Flags of our Fathers” and the insanely overrated “Mystic River.” No, this is simply a flat-out terrible movie and the only thing more surprising than the fact that the normally reliable Eastwood would take on such a cockeyed project in the first place--indeed, he has hinted that his performance here might be his last--is that some people out there are so blinded by Eastwood’s star aura that they have deluded themselves into considering it to be some kind of late-career masterpiece along the ranks of such undeniably brilliant works as “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” when it actually deserves to be compared with the likes of “The Rookie.”

Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, an embittered Korean War vet with a wife who has just passed away as the story opens, two sons whose hateful Yuppie families see him only as a grumpy old man who might leave them some stuff when he kicks the bucket and a house in a run-down Detroit neighborhood that has been taken over by the very minorities and immigrants that he has spent his entire life despising. The only things that he seems to have any interest in doing anymore is sitting on his porch with his faithful dog by his side and a cold beer in his hand while muttering dark comments about the Asian family living next door or hanging out in his garage tending to his most prized possession, a beautifully restored 1972 Gran Torino. Essentially, Walt just wants to be left alone to live out his remaining days in solitude and woe to anyone who tries to shake him out of his rut, whether it is his kids trying to get him to give up his house and move into a retirement home or the well-meaning new parish priest , Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), who patiently tries to follow the last wishes of Walt’s late wife and get Walt to go to confession for the first time in maybe a half-century. His life changes abruptly when he catches Thao (Bee Vang), the teenage son of the family next door, in his garage trying to make off with the Gran Torino. It turns out that Thao was goaded into doing it by his cousin, the leader of a local gang, as part of an initiation that he really didn’t want to take part in and when the cousin and his pals return a couple of nights later to make him finish the job, it inspires a brawl that is quickly ended with Walt appearing with a shotgun and the instant clenched-teeth catchphrase “Get off my lawn.”

As a result of this, Walt becomes an unwitting and unwilling hero among the local population and when Thao’s mother and sister, the spunky Sue (Ahney Her), come over to thank him personally, he angrily informs them about catching Thao trying to steal his car. In order to save face, Thao’s mother orders him to work off his karmic debt by doing whatever Walt wants him to do. At first, of course, Walt wants nothing to do with him but eventually has Thao doing odd jobs and repairs around the neighborhood and finds himself unexpectedly beginning to bond with him. Later on, he rescues Sue from another set of punks and learns more about her family--it turns out that they were part of the Hmong population who aided the Americans during the war and were forced to leave their home country after the U.S. pulled out--and realizes that she and Thao are making a genuine effort to better themselves while trying to avoid falling into the violent traps that have felled so many of their fellow countrymen who have tried to start over again in America. Before long, Walt finds himself more and more involved with their lives--more so than with his own family--and when the punks show up again to brutalize Sue and shoot up her house, it makes him mean mad and goads him into fighting back against their depravations once and for all.

There is a nugget of a good idea for a film somewhere within “Gran Torino”--it touches on themes involving race and violence that Eastwood has explored throughout his career--but the incredibly amateurish screenplay by Nick Schenk seems to go out of its way to sabotage itself as it goes along. The story is supposed to be a slice-of-life story, I suppose, but there is hardly a single plausible or believable moment on display. We are supposed to believe that Walt is a hard-core racist through and through but based on how he is shown here, he barely crosses the threshold of curmudgeon before having his instantaneous change of heart--sure, he tosses out plenty of nasty anti-Asian names but they are all delivered as punch lines and when he gets around to telling a racist joke to his equally racist buddies, he actually uses the phrase “colored guy” instead of the word that a real racist, though perhaps not the star of a major studio release, would be more likely to deploy in conversation. (I’d repeat the joke but since it is actually the funniest thing in the film, I will leave it for you to discover. All of the supporting characters are clichés that range from the mildly annoying (such as the twerpy priest who keeps coming back for more abuse long after even the most dedicated missionary might have thrown in the towel) to the actively annoying (the depiction of Walt’s greedy and self-absorbed relatives is so cartoonish that it makes the presentation of Hilary Swank trailer-trash family in “Million Dollar Baby” seem positively restrained by comparison.).

Then again, subtlety is not one of the strong parts of this particular enterprise. Take the sequence in which Walt goes next door to attend a family barbecue at Sue’s invitation and unexpectedly finds himself bonding with the very people he used to disparage on a daily basis. The point of this scene, of course, is to show that Walt has changed and grown so much that he now feels more of a kinship with these strangers than with his own estranged family. In a good film, this idea could be signified with a subtle word or two or even with something as small as a physical gesture. Here, Schenk’s method of getting this notion across is to have Walt look into a mirror (after coughing up about a gallon of blood) and flat-out say “I have more in common with these gooks than with my own spoiled family. (To steal a quote from “Ghostbusters,” “You don’t think it’s too subtle, do you? You don’t think people are going to pass by and not notice the sign?”) Under normal circumstances, this would have been the film’s low point but things actually get worse during the climax--I won’t spoil any of it for you but I will say that it is so crassly unsubtle in its juxtaposition of violence, religious iconography and deeply unconvincing plotting that it makes the finale of “Sudden Impact” look quiet and refined by comparison.

As bad as the screenplay is, and it is as weakly written as anything you will encounter anytime soon, Eastwood doesn’t exactly do it any favors with his artistic contributions. Although the simple and unadorned filmmaking style he deploys this time around is a welcome relief at first from the overly fussy and self-consciously arty approach that he has employed on his last few projects, it begins to look so ragged after a while that it appears as if Clint just ordered cinematographer Tom Stern to simply plunk his camera anywhere so that he could shoot the scenes as quickly as possible, regardless of what the end results looked like, because he was too distracted by other things. I don’t know what those “other things” might have been, but they certainly don’t appear to have had anything to do with his work on the movie. Like most Eastwood productions of late, it plods along and carries about 20 more minutes than the story can support--the stuff involving the ever-present priest is so annoying and has such a “so what?” conclusion that it could have easily been dropped without anyone noticing. Unlike most Eastwood productions of late, the performances aren’t up to snuff either. Unlike most of Eastwood’s recent films, which have contained a number of talented veteran actors doing their thing, most of the performers here are relative newcomers. Presumably, Eastwood was hoping that by bringing in some unfamiliar faces, it would make the story seem a little more realistic and inject some vitality into the proceedings but whatever benefits this decision might have provided are overshadowed by the simple fact that they are pretty terrible--outside of a couple of nice moments here and there from Ahney Her as Sue and the turn from veteran character actor John Carroll Lynch as an old buddy of Walt’s, the performances are pretty much amateurish across the board.

Unfortunately, this extends to Eastwood’s performance as well. Although he has never been known as the most subtle or nuanced of performers, he has grown considerably as a performer over the years and has shown a surprising range in films as varied as “Bronco Billy,” “Tightrope,” “Unforgiven,” “In the Line of Fire,” “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Million Dollar Baby.” None of that range or nuance is on display here in his bizarre take on Walt--you don’t believe him as a racist jerk, you don’t buy his transition into a better person and with his constant growlings and his delivery of virtually every line through clenched teeth and a savage scowl, you might actually think that he was doing a sly self-parody of his tough guy persona if it weren’t for the fact that he never displays a single trace of the irony required to pull it off. As I was watching Eastwood grunting his way through the film in this uncharacteristically over-the-top manner, a turn that has inexplicably won raves in some circles (to quote from the film itself, “They probably heard there was going to be a lot of ham”), I began thinking of how much more effective it might have been if he had somehow figured out a way to get Gene Hackman to take the part--he might have managed to be convincing enough as an unlikable hard-ass in the early scenes while bringing enough subtlety to the proceedings to make the later scenes pay off.

Throughout his long career, both as an actor and as a director, Clint Eastwood has made a lot of movies and has carefully nursed things along to such a degree that he has pretty much consistently remained one of the world’s top stars from his days in the Sergio Leone spaghetti through today. However, ever once in a while, he has taken leave of his sense and does a film that is so terrible and so inexplicable that you just sit there dumbfounded that he would waste his time and talent on something that should have sent up warning signals right from the get-go--films like “Paint Your Wagon” or “City Heat” or “Pink Cadillac” or “The Rookie” or “Blood Work..” As sad as it is to say it, “Gran Torino” belongs on that list of head-scratchers and what makes it even worse is the talk that this might be his last screen performance. Granted, such talk might help his hopes for an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (which he should have won for “Unforgiven,” quite frankly) but as a longtime fan of the man and his work, I can only hope that this retirement talk turns out to be as accurate as the other hints on the subject he has let slip over the last few years--someone of his stature deserves to go out with something better than this nonsense.

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originally posted: 12/19/08 16:00:00
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell good eastwood vehicle 4 stars
7/05/17 Lisa What a load of melodramatic crap. Overrated garbage. 1 stars
6/25/17 Danny Awful acting, and Eastwood's as usual about as subtle as a sledgehammer. 1 stars
3/01/15 stanley welles clumsy and crude, yet preposterously entertaining throughout 3 stars
6/10/14 FireWithFire Not-so-subtle message: White people need to die off. 1 stars
4/05/12 Adam Sandler Movie goers and critics don't look at movies with the same perspective. Who needs critics? 5 stars
10/15/11 Dave Agreed with Peter's review. Spot on. 2 stars
11/14/10 sam bonner people love this movie, that is all that matters 5 stars
7/04/10 puddleduck Excellent story, unfortunate some don't get what this movie is explores. 5 stars
4/19/10 MattyC. Holy cow. How did anyone like this trash? HORRIBLE acting!! Painfully pretentious. 1 stars
3/28/10 BigGuy If he was a Korean war vet, his first car would have been a 55 Chevy--get your dates right! 1 stars
1/10/10 pinter terrible cliched film 1 stars
11/29/09 Flounder Ham-fisted screenplay almost kills pic, but Clint's performance is worth price of admission 4 stars
9/27/09 The Grinch Stumbles into melodrama here and there, but heart's in the right place, 4 stars
9/01/09 MP Bartley Not exactly subtle, but Eastwood pulls you into it regardless. 4 stars
8/05/09 charley hayes Some ordinary acting but older eastwood much more enjoyable than young clint 4 stars
8/03/09 David A. An old grump tries to be a tough guy--lame, stupid, and boring! 1 stars
7/16/09 Brett P. An AWESOME movie,and the music by Clint is BRILLIANT. 5 stars
7/09/09 Benny Lava Hammy acting and 90% useless characters set in a most boring and predictable storyline. 1 stars
7/04/09 Monday Morning Pretty disappointing but better than most of the crap they're making today. 3 stars
7/02/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess A great movie. 5 stars
6/22/09 devastator very racist stupid film, bad script full of epithets 1 stars
6/20/09 L&Y We loved it....such a quiet movie left such a great impression 5 stars
6/18/09 jurisprudence terrible, terrible and terrible. Clint please retire 1 stars
6/17/09 Simon bitchslap reviewers certainly overrate subtlety. Flawed film tho, a few redeeming scenes 3 stars
6/13/09 action movie fan some scenes were good but mainly too talky and dull 2 stars
5/04/09 AllenK Sad that prior posters missed the confessional subtlety. Finely crafted; will see again 5 stars
4/21/09 malcolm grumpy old Dirty Harry 3 stars
4/07/09 Michael You're spot on. This film is so camp !! dreadful clichés.Thoroughly soporific. No subtlety. 1 stars
4/05/09 Jacqueline It was bad. It was ugly. The only good thing is that it ended. 1 stars
4/05/09 K. Sear One of the most poorly assembled films I have ever seen. 1 stars
3/02/09 Ryan Lloyd Yes the teenageractors were shocking, but the script is witty and clint eastwood is as neas 5 stars
2/28/09 R.W. Welch Clint channels Archie Bunker, with a twist. C+ 3 stars
2/01/09 matt the insults were funny 4 stars
2/01/09 Koitus Some of the story = confusing (cousin attacks own family); what were medical test results? 3 stars
1/25/09 Peta I felt like I was watching a D grade tele-movie. Truly cringe worthy! 1 stars
1/22/09 Jackie Finally someone tells it like it us. What an awful, awkward, disjointed film. Hilarious! 1 stars
1/21/09 don eremin people do change..wonderful 5 stars
1/20/09 Ginny Monroe Perfect movie, I loved it! 5 stars
1/18/09 Mike Eastwood was great. Couldn't get over the terrible cast. 2 stars
1/17/09 phyllis Hated this film. Horrible acting. NO redeeming value. Obnoxious and ignorant. 1 stars
1/16/09 matt a near masterpiece, but felt a little too long. 4 stars
1/16/09 Aesop Best Actor. Best Director. Best Picture. 4 stars
1/12/09 D from Indy Redemption, regret, we needed more Walt back story, but Loved it. 4 stars
1/11/09 George (DUKE) Eastwood perfect...stereotypes RIGHT ON THE MONEY...true...funny 4 stars
1/11/09 Luisa Terrible asian actors, but Clint was great, funny!! 4 stars
1/10/09 Jess The cast seemed amateur because they ARE amateurs! Non-actors! 5 stars
1/04/09 John Seems your cosy middle-class education precluded working-class culture and social mores. 4 stars
12/29/08 Drew It was a great movie 5 stars
12/29/08 mr.mike Unfortunately the character is more Archie Bunker than Paul Kersey. 4 stars
12/28/08 caiphn Loved it. 4 stars
12/25/08 WaltSobchak It was hilarious. The song at the end knocks a star off. Stop singing Clint. Please. 4 stars
12/21/08 Andrew Your way off Peter. Its a great movie in a time where there aren't that many. 5 stars
12/15/08 Man Out 6 Bucks Clint puts multicultural mythology on high contrast. Freeze frame from a day in south LA 5 stars
12/13/08 bc Way to start with a misplaced modifier, Brian. You're describing Eastwood, not the film. 4 stars
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  12-Dec-2008 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2009


  DVD: 09-Jun-2009

Directed by
  Clint Eastwood

Written by
  Nick Schenk

  Clint Eastwood
  Cory Hardrict
  Geraldine Hughes
  Brian Haley
  Dreama Walker
  Brian Howe

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