Monday, January 12, 2009

"Why does everyone want my car?"

Okay, I am not obsessed with Clint Eastwood films. It was just a coincidence that I posted two in a row. I don't have posters of Eastwood on my ceiling. Or maybe I do, you'll never know.

See a good movie and want to tell me about it? Leave a comment.


Gran Torino

While standing in line to get movie tickets (no this isn’t a plug for a man behind me asked what movie I was seeing. After my reply of Gran Torino, he asked, “What’s that?”

It’s a Clint Eastwood film.

“Oh yeah, the one where he shoots kids.”

To be fair, I went into Gran Torino probably knowing less than that guy. I didn’t even know what a Gran Torino was (it happens to be a car, for those still left in oblivion). All I knew that it starred Clint Eastwood who also directed and produced the movie and it looked serious. But what I’ve learned is that Eastwood movies always look more serious than they actually are (Changeling, Million Dollar Baby).

The movie opens with a funeral. Walt Kowalski’s (Eastwood) wife is dead. Kowalski stands beside his wife’s casket and growls at the scene in front of him: his wife is dead, his children and grandchildren are disrespectful and the priest, just out of seminary, knows little of life or death yet he preaches like he does. Going home doesn’t get better. After promising Mrs. Kowalski on her death bed, the priest takes special interest in Walt, trying to get him to go to confession. He growls and growls and growls. His once “wholesome” neighborhood is being overrun with Hmongs. He is awoken one night by the sound of someone trying to steal his one prized possession, his ’72 Gran Torino. Although the intruder gets away, Walt keeps his shot gun out (and out it stays the rest of the movie) and the next night he is well prepared when a Hmong gang is fighting on his lawn. The next day, neighborhood ladies (who only speak the Hmong language) bring food, flowers and other goodies to his doorstep. The neighborhood considers him a hero and eventually, Walt starts acting like one and starts to make the community a better place.

Gran Torino takes place in Michigan and actually is filled in Michigan, taking advantage of the state’s new law that provides tax incentive packages to film productions. But it didn’t add to the movie much since the audience only sees the little neighborhood where the story takes place. I wasn’t a fan of Eastwood in this movie. He was a grumpy old man and it got repetitive at times. Okay, he’s angry, we got it, let’s move on! Walt’s extremely racist view on the world (calling Hmongs, Italians, African Americans, Germans, Mexicans, any ethnicity by name) received large laughs from the audience but those too got old and most of them were sheer ignorance. The laughter derived from the shock value and nothing else. I don’t think any specific ethnicity will be offended; the movie is equally offensive to all.

The Hmong actors were all chosen from various open casting calls across the country. In the whole movie only one Hmong actor had appeared on film before. The two main Hmong actors, Ahney Her (Sue) and Bee Vang (Thao), did a wonderful job, especially for their first performances. Her’s bright performance early in the film was a great compliment with Eastwood’s moody acting.

Overall I found the movie to be fairly decent. It was entertaining but I wasn’t surprised with the lack of Golden Globe nominations. The storyline was weak, the plot was predictable and the scenes were repetitive. There was one painfully obvious Diet Coke product placement moment that made me cringe. And sadly, watching the preview on the Gran Torino website shows all the good parts of the film. I would skip the theater and wait until the movie comes out on DVD.

* Picture from the L.A. Times

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