I am not a racist. I believe that every race has their benefits and shortcomings, including my own. But who among us can say we haven't laughed at some racial humor in our lives? I like to think that it's healthy to poke fun at everybody once in a while, just as long as it is in good fun and not meant to be offensive. Comedians everywhere do impersonations of different races that we are not ashamed to laugh at. Racism in movies and television can be somewhat different depending on how it is used. American History X was a fantastic film that focused on how racism can destroy lives, and it was absolutely nothing to laugh about. However, racism in a movie like Borat is meant to inspire laughter and not to be taken seriously in any sense of the word (although I guess you could say Borat was more anti-Semitic than racist. Same point though). But with all the professional comics out their, who would have thought that the best racial and insult comedian to ever live was Clint Eastwood?
The content of Gran Torino is in no way a comedy. It is the story of bitter Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), who after losing his wife now lives alone with his dog Daisy. Walt spends his time fixing things around the house, drinking beer, and caring for his beloved 1972 Gran Torino. At the wishes of his late wife, local priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) checks up on him every now and then, but Walt, who has trouble connecting with own children, wants nothing to do with him. But if you asked Walt what annoyed him the most about his life, it would be his neighbors. We've all had neighbors we didn't care for. Maybe they didn't clean up after their dog in front of your house. Maybe they borrowed your lawn shears and never returned them. Walt's reason? They are Asian. An entire neighborhood of Hmong people surround Walt, and he is not happy about it. When his next door neighbor's teenage son Tao (Bee Vang) tries to steal his Gran Torino as a sort of gang initiation, the family forces their son to work for Walt as penance. As Walt gets to know Tao and his family, his old ideals begin to fade, and he even takes Tao under his wing, teaching him life lessons and protecting him from the gang that is after him. Gran Torino is a film that defines character growth and is richly entertaining, albeit not always for the right reasons.
The single driving force behind Gran Torino is its director and star Clint Eastwood. Without his presence, this film would have suffered vastly. Although Eastwood's age prevents him from bringing physical charisma to the screen, his verbal deliverance of insults and lessons make his performance unique and interesting. The septuagenarian actor claims Gran Torino will be his final film in front of the camera so he can stay behind the camera, and I feel this performance is one Eastwood can go out on happily. Whether he wanted to or not, he brought forth a deadpan comedy that would make Vince Vaughn proud. A single scene where he would walk through the house of a Hmong family and throw around racial slurs as though nobody was there provided for more laughs than all of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's movies put together. (Although it can't be hard to top two laughs). Eastwood's performance was thoroughly entertaining, but because it was for the wrong reason, I can't really say it was great. When Eastwood wasn't rolling me in the aisles, he spent his time growling at people and just looking genuinely angry at everything. Even when his character shows kindness he still ends up looking like he wants to hurt me. The accomplishment in Eastwood's performance lies solely in how he convincingly made his character turn from a miserable grouch to a kind-hearted hero. He also taught me about four new insults I plan on dispensing to my friends.
Without the professionalism of Eastwood, Gran Torino falls short on every mark. The entire Hmong supporting cast was comprised of rookie actors who have never been in a movie before, with the exception of Doua Moua, who played the gang leader. Perhaps by surrounding himself with the talentless hoi polloi, Eastwood thought his guttural mumblings would make him seem like the mumblings of a Best Actor candidate. Nice try, Mr. Eastwood. Gran Torino also becomes unsure of itself as it plays on. At first you feel the movie will primarily be about Walt protecting Tao from the gang, while at the same time learning the lesson of tolerance. But the film ends up abandoning the gang aspect and just focuses on Walt and Tao's relationship for most of the movie. Then at the end, the gang, after lying dormant for about 45 minutes, re-enters and steals the ending of the movie. I acknowledge that this could be argued as making the movie "dynamic", but I choose to think it makes writer Nick Schenk indecisive. However, Schenk's screenplay is not at all bad. There were several scenes that were written very well and kept the movie entertaining. Specifically, keep an eye out for the scene when Walt teaches Tao to interact "like a man" with his barber Martin (John Carroll Lynch).
Gran Torino is a tolerable 116 minutes that is mostly held up by star Eastwood. I have to reiterate that although I am recommending this movie, it is not because it was the deep, searing drama it looks like. I actually suggest cutting off the final 20 minutes and changing the title to Clint Eastwood Insults People. If they did that, they could've won the Golden Globe for Best Picture Comedy or Musical. Actually, if they made it a musical, this could go down in history as the greatest movie ever made. But it isn't. The only dramatic aspect where Gran Torino succeeds is in spectacular character development. Everything else is overshadowed by comedy. My rating (7/10), for all the wrong reasons.
NOTE: I'm aware of the fact that this movie is not really a comedy. I just found the content of this movie to be extremely comical when it was supposed to be very serious. That was my point. So if you noticed that I tagged it as a comedy, please don't think I'm an idiot.