Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #92
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood and Bee Vang
I knew going into this project that at some point I'd stumble upon some movies that would make a run at my list of all-time favorites. What I didn't expect is that it would only take four days. As a big Clint Eastwood fan, it's unforgivable on my part that I haven't seen a lot of his most acclaimed films from the last decade. Of all of the ones I need to see over the course of this blog, I was most excited to see Gran Torino. I wasn't disappointed. In fact, my expectations were exceeded, and I have a new movie that after one viewing figures to fall somewhere in my personal top 25 or so films of all time.
Clint Eastwood recently told the media that while he will continue to direct, his last performance as an actor will be Gran Torino. If he stays true to his word, it's safe to say he has gone out on top. As curmudgeonly Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski, Eastwood stretches his gravelly voice – now worn down with nearly 80 years of use – over a great, sprawling narrative befitting of a Best Actor Oscar (The film was snubbed of even one nomination, but we'll get to that shortly). Walt lives in a Detroit neighborhood mostly occupied by Hmong people – for whom he has a laundry list of racial slurs he picked up in Korea – and inadvertently takes his next-door neighbors under his wing when their young son tries to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. As a one-man wrecking crew, Walt tries to subvert the gang's influence on the boy. From the film's climax to the end credits, the emotional intensity never relents, and I'll be the first to admit that I very nearly cried. No spoilers necessary; if you've seen it, you know why.
Gran Torino could be seen as a meditation on race, but I don't really see it that way. Walt uses the same racial slurs for people that he loves and people that he hates. It's just the way he talks. Sure, it's offensive, but he picked up those racial epithets in Korea and can't lose them now, fifty years later. He judges people for who they are, and while he does have some prejudices, it doesn't really take him much effort to shed them. This is definitely a movie with its racial undertones, but it's much more about how the Hmong see Walt than the way he sees them. When he protects his friends from a violent gang, race is the last thing on his mind. He just wants the people he loves to be safe.
I'm definitely scratching my head about the zero Oscar nominations that this movie earned, and I'm more disappointed in the Academy than I have ever been. In my opinion, Eastwood should have earned nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, the screenplay should have earned a nomination (How many racial slurs can you put in a character's mouth while keeping him that likable?), the film should have been nominated for Best Picture, and hell, why not: Ahney Her should have earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as Sue Lor, the girl who brings Walt into the Hmong community's life. The fact that it received none is extremely confusing since Clint is usually a critical darling – or has been since Unforgiven, anyway.
Despite the heinous oversight on the part of the Academy, the free market of ideas prevails. While Gran Torino was snubbed on Oscar night, it finds itself securely within the Top 100 on the IMDb with a legion of fans willing to fight for it. Clint Eastwood proves that it doesn't matter how old he is, he will always dominate the screen whenever he's on it and dominate the camera whenever he's behind. Long live the king.
The Good: Clint's performance leaves a strong impression, which was probably by design since he recently declared it his last. The final twenty minutes of the movie are also crucial since the exclamations you'll make at the screen radically change from "That's hilarious!" and "What a badass!" to "Oh my God, no" and "I can't believe that just happened," with just a touch of "Awww, that's really nice" thrown in. But that's just Clint being the master that he is.
The Bad: Bee Vang's performance as Thao isn't great, but that's forgivable since this movie is his only film credit.
The Skinny: Definitely deserves its place in the Top 250. On my personal list it would rank even higher.