I saw Gran Torino when it opened nationwide. Let me tell you up front that Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, not Dirty Harry even though the promo makes you think it's going to be a guns-blazing Dirty Harry encore.
Okay, guns and fisticuffs are involved, but the film is so much more than that. Joining Mr. Eastwood in the film is Christopher Carley as Father Janovich, a determined priest who knows little of real life as lived by Korean war vet Kowalski; Ahney Her, entrancing as Sue Lor, the spirited Hmong girl next door who just won't let Kowalski continue living isolated and alone; and Bee Vang as Thao Vang Lor, called Toad by Kowalski who becomes his surrogate father and role model, teaching the young Hmong how American blue collar guys bond and behave.
Dave Johannson and Nick Schenk wrote the story, and Nick Schenk wrote the screenplay. Schenk has already won Best Original Screenplay from the National Board of Review. His previous work is what the general public would consider obscure. Johannson doesn't have any previous writing credits that I could find so if this is his first credited project, he's got a great future. The writers take what you may think is a cliche and spin it into a fresh, character-driven story packed with emotion.
As the film opens, Kowalksi is in church for the funeral of his wife, a woman he characterizes later as the best woman in the country that he managed to catch. You won't catch Kowalksi moving into assisted living though his stereotypical sons would love to sell the family home in the old neighborhood and put him where they could justifiably say, "He's being taken care of." He's an embarrassment and an emotional anvil around their necks just as they are a puzzle to him.
The trouble with the old neighborhood isn't that it's been taken over by Asians, but that the gangs - Asian, black, Hispanic - have a stranglehold on the decent people who are trying to find their piece of the American dream while still clinging to their traditions and values.
Gran Torino isn't so much about knocking heads, defending the old neighborhood, and facing down gangbangers as it is about character growth and discovering that family doesn't necessarily mean the people you're related to by blood. Eastwood gives a layered performance that is worthy of Best Actor. In fact, there are several stellar performances in this film i.e. Carley's priest and unknown actors Ahney Her and Thao Vang Lor. Even Clint's son Scott Eastwood, credited in the film as Scott Reeves, is good in his role as the gutless Trey.
I won't spoil the ending if you haven't seen it, but it is surprising. And poignant. If you're an Eastwood fan, you'll love the film. If you abhor Eastwood, you'll be surprised how this film stays with you. I could easily see this as an Eastwood sweep of all the major film awards. Then again, it may not win any other awards except for the writers. See it. You won't be disappointed.
Awards don't make a film a classic. Whether Gran Torino wins or loses at the awards and the box office, it will become a classic.
(Reprinted from Joan Slings Words, my test blog.)