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Marty McSkywalker Takes Eastwood's GRAN TORINO For A Spin!!

Merrick here...
Marty McSkywalker, who has contributed to AICN before, sent in this look at Clint Eastwood's GRAN TORINO (releasing December 12 - trailer HERE). How does it measure up to other Eastwood films? Read on.
Here's Marty...
Fair or not, every Clint Eastwood movie that I see is measured against Million Dollar Baby. That film took me to places I wasn't prepared to go and moved me in ways that few films have. I found the ending so sad, so upsetting, that it took me several years before I was even able to watch it again. That film was perfect. A masterpiece. I know the power that Eastwood is capable of as a filmmaker. For me, Eastwood's Changeling, released earlier this fall, fell far short. Though it had some powerful moments, I found it overly long, unfocused, and impaired by an aloof main character. Purportedly based on a true story, the film also grossly distorted reality. (One can read about the true story in the L.A. Times archive, among other resources.) Had the film stuck closer to the truth, it probably would have been better. The police would have come across as less villainous and one-dimensional; Angelina Jolie's character would have felt more human; and the film would have felt less manipulative. Gran Torino, I'm happy to report, finds Eastwood back in fine form. The similarities between it and Million Dollar Baby are uncanny. Both are about a gruff older man (Eastwood) and his relationship with a younger person who is fatherless--a relationship that begins with dislike and resistance, and ultimately evolves into that of a mentor/mentee. Both films involve the theme of sacrifice. Both involve religion and a relationship with a priest. The films have the same grayish, de-saturated palette and minimalistic score. Warner Bros. even seems to be employing the same release strategy--to date, it has relied on limited marketing and has kept much of the plot under wraps. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a man who's an unforgivable racist, yet has a certain likeable quality. His wife has just passed away. We never see her (except in a photo), but hear a lot about her; she obviously found something in this man to love. Gradually, we learn what that is. Indeed, this film has what Changeling did not: a complex leading character. I don't want to spoil much of the plot, but I will say that the film is about Kowalski and his relationship with his neighbors, a group of Hmong immigrants, particularly with the two children, Tao and Sue.. One night, Tao attempts to steal Kowalski's most prized possession, a 1972 Gran Torino, as part of a gang initiation. Kowalski catches him. Through circumstances and rules imposed by the Hmong culture, Tao is forced to work for Kowalski for several days. They gradually grow to like and respect each other. However, also competing for Tao's attention is a neighborhood gang, of which Tao's cousin is a member. I really got involved in the story, the characters, and the community depicted here. The film has a lot to say about contemporary American society and changing times. Kowalski's motivations for doing what he does are complex and interesting. The film's two young actors, Bee Vang and Ahney Her, give impressive, naturalistic performances. I was also struck by the performance of one of the young gang members--I don't know his name. Though a minor role, we understand perfectly his motivations and desires, and see through his eyes the superificial appeal of gangs to young people. Eastwood, though in familiar acting territory, is also excellent (and in phenomenal shape) as Kowalski, with one exception: he tends to express his disapproval of things with a vocal growl, which I found overdone and a bit cartoonish. There are several “stand-up-and-cheer” moments, including one scene where Kowalski confronts a group of males harassing Sue. I also got a kick out of a scene between Tao and a barber. Eastwood sure knows how to strike a chord with the audience. He also shows great attention to detail. I like how, in the opening scene, Eastwood establishes Kowalski’s character by showing us the things he looks at and notices. Many plot points, including a likely rape and one character's illness, are suggested subtlety. I was also impressed with a brief, nearly silent scene in which Kowalski observes some youths and their encounter with an elderly woman who has dropped a bag of groceries. Through images, Eastwood says all that needs to be said. If the film has a weakness, it's that the ending is a bit too pat and predictable, and relies on Kowalski knowing something was going to happen that he couldn't possibly predict. The ending didn't quite deliver the impact I felt the film deserved. (Though this may be a minor point, the song that plays over the end credits is also an odd choice. I believe it is Eastwood we actually hear singing--or someone who sure sounds a lot like him.) Overall, however, this is a very strong film--maybe not in Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven, or Letters from Iwo Jima territory--but still one of Eastwood's best, and well worth seeing. I recommend it. -Marty McSkywalker

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