LOWELL, Mass. — Clint Eastwood has yet again shown that he can be more than just Dirty Harry.
He can be a wonderful producer, an amazing director, and still show shades of Dirty Harry on the screen. “Gran Torino” is Eastwood’s latest attempt to cement himself as a big name director and producer — this time with himself in almost every shot. Clearly, Clint might not have many years left in him, but he’s determined to fill them with quality films and continue breaking taboos in show business.
Written by: Nick Schenk
Seen at: Showcase Cinemas Lowel
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang
Running time: 116 min.
“Gran Torino” is essentially two coming of age stories colliding. Eastwood plays Walter Kowalski, an aging war veteran who spent most of his life on the assembly line at the Ford factory in Detroit. His neighborhood has slowly been filled with Hmong immigrants, and his old ways show when dealing with them. Through a turn of events his life becomes entwined with his neighbor, a teenager named Thao (Bee Vang).
Thao is a good child, but doesn’t stand up for himself. So we have a character who is full of grit and rage but needs to accept everyone, and someone who needs to learn self-confidence but also needs saving from his own life. We all know how this story goes, but that’s not the important part. It’s not so much what happens, but how it happens. Even without big named actors, the relationship between Walt and Thao’s family feels genuine.
First off, we must make mention of the title character, Walt’s 1972 Gran Torino, which has been kept in perfect condition. This car is what makes the whole movie happen, and is the motivation for a lot of the characters. Some try to steal it, while others try and protect it, while others envy it. Most importantly is Walt, who holds it close to him. To him it’s the only thing that remains unchanged. Same as the day he bought it, the car shows the simplicity of what Walt wants from life.
Everyone knows that one old man, whether it be a friend of the family, your grandparents, or your parents who aren’t bad people, but still refuse to accept change. Eastwood takes that to the next level in this movie. In between slurs and insults, some true wisdom shows through Walt, but is quickly masked again by his rough attitude and his growling.
Eastwood bring a lot of himself into the role, and it shows, but I have a feeling that he might have taken the growling a bit too far. It’s a minor complaint for what otherwise is a wonderful performance that reminds us that independence isn’t measured in age, but in maturity.
The movie has received a lot of praise for casting a mostly Hmong cast, something that has never been done before. It trades star power for authenticity, and you can see that in the detail. When inside the Hmong household, it feels like they just took a camera into someone’s actual house.
As actor’s, the whole group could use a few other movies, but considering they were picked from open casting calls, it is a fine performance. I would not be surprised if Bee Vang could turn this into a career.
Only a couple of non- Hmong actors play a role in the movie, and they all play their parts perfectly. A couple of Walt’s old friends show up in the film, most notably John Carroll Lynch playing his barber. For a small part, Lynch brings a lot to the movie and the character makes a big impact on the plot. Christopher Carley plays a young Reverend, and does a great job, considering the weight of playing a 30-year-old man of the cloth.
Overall, the film is definitely worth seeing. It’s a limited release, but don’t skip out on it because of that. Make your way to the theater and keep Eastwood directing. He told a simple story about change and acceptance, and kept be interested without resorting to cheap thrills and clichƒ©s, and that I hope doesn’t change anytime soon.