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Movie Review: Gran Torino

Eastwood directs not-so-grand ‘Torino'
Gran Torino
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 116 min
Release Date: 2008-12-19
Tags: There are no tags.
By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

Remember when you made a face as a little kid, and your mother warned you not to do it because you might get stuck that way? Clint Eastwood should have listened.

He wears the same death mask of discomfort through the first hour of “Gran Torino,” the squinting scowl of a man who's been dared to stare straight at the sun for five minutes. Grunts and growls escape him like gas hissing from a deflating balloon. When he attempts a smile, the corners of his lips rise by a sixteenth of an inch; when he's angry, that slit of a mouth narrows by the same degree. Words come out in a raspy, almost unintelligible voice that sounds like a convict sawing through the bars of his cell with a file.

Half of those words are profane in “Gran Torino.” He plays Walt Kowalski, a Michigan bigot who toiled for Ford for 40 years without accepting the people of various colors and nationalities around him on the assembly line.

Walt is reasonably anxious about the incursion of gangs into his once-safe neighborhood and unreasonably angry about his next-door neighbors, a friendly Hmong family that has relocated through the Lutheran Church. We never find out why Walt's a bigot – perhaps because he killed “gooks” in the Korean War, though that wouldn't explain his attitude toward all minorities.

For half a century, Walt has harbored horrible, unexpressed memories of his dark deeds in Korea. So when young Sue Lor (Ahney Her) gets harassed by black thugs, a mixture of guilt and ingrained chivalry toward women prompts Walt to protect her.

Then her younger brother, Thao (Bee Vang), tries to steal Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation; Walt's enraged but realizes this fatherless kid could become a decent man, if he had a role model. Soon enough, Walt buys Thao a tool belt, finds him a job at a construction site, and teaches him how to swear and insult others' ancestors.

Nick Schenk's well-intentioned script employs the creaky old Hollywood device of reversing everything set up in its first half. When newly widowed Walt blows off a concerned priest (bland Christopher Carley), you can be sure he'll embrace the guy, as soon as the padre proves his manhood by tossing away diet soda in favor of a beer. When Walt mocks the Catholic tradition of confession, you might as well dust off his seat in the confessional.

We get welcome glimpses of the Hmongs' lives, though too few of them, but Walt's kin are such ogreish boors that they seem like cartoons. The film's second half finally acquires more subtlety and a few welcome surprises, once Walt acquires some humanity and Eastwood finally varies his line readings. Alas, the preposterous ending fritters away much of the goodwill the film has slowly gained.

Vang and Her, both of whom make their debuts, are always endearing if occasionally amateurish. Eastwood, who's famous for directing films at top speed, doesn't seem to have helped them much. (It would be uncharitable to suggest he surrounded himself with weaker actors to make his minimalist performance seem stronger, but that's the result.)

As usual, he produced the film; he even co-wrote a song for the end credits with Jamie Cullum, and he croaks one verse before Cullum takes over. If skeletons could sing, this is what they would sound like.

Reviews & Comments
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01/07/2009 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

His black-and-white view of the world yields heavy-handed results in this story of a reclaimed bigot.

(Full review)
Aug 30, 2009 - StvDvs on Gran Torino
Give Lawrence A Break...

He's not the only person that didn't think this movie was up to snuff. The Toronto Globe and Mail, Baltimore Sun, San Fransisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, NY Daily News, Hollywood Reporter, Boston Globe, Salon.com, New York Magazine, Variety, and Slate all gave it similarly unfavorable marks. Just because you aren't sophisticated enough to pick up on the fact that this movie is neither subtle or very original does not make it either. Keep up the good work Lawrence, I'm glad someone at the Observer has good taste.

Jan 13, 2009 - stepbennett on Gran Torino
Grand Torino Is A Grand Movie

Clint Eastwood's performance is true to life. Supporting cast was outstanding. Very moving and memorable. Obviously, this critic didn't get it.

Jan 12, 2009 - jwagner on Gran Torino
Grand Torino

Larry do you ever get it right. GT was true to life, well directed and acted.

Jan 11, 2009 - tdw_nc on Gran Torino
2 stars from a 1/2 wit

Uhm...yeah...2 stars...riiiiiiiiight!

Top grossing film in America, consistently 3 1/2 to 4 stars from most other reviewers....

Note to Larry,

Put your PC blinders back in your man-purse and try to appreciate the fact that Clint Eastwood did a great job on this film.

Jan 11, 2009 - ctspencer55 on Gran Torino
Topman - What makes his opinion worth printing?

You have to love the Charlotte Pravda....only they would let Topman's dribble go to print.

Great movie. Great story. Poor review by someone who didn't watch the movie.

Jan 11, 2009 - msoots on Gran Torino
Topman and idiot

This Topman is what is wrong with the US today...not this movie. I hope when all this liberism really catches hold that he can find someone to save his sorry but...because he will need it. The movie is real life good or bad. I think it is one of eastwoods top two movies. It's evident that the person giving this review chooses to reflect his on morals on the world in lieu of giving a great movie it's due. I'll never knowingly read another of his reviews.

(no rating) Jan 11, 2009 - Photo13 on Gran Torino
Gran Torino

Toppman just doesn't get it. Never has, never will.

(no rating) Jan 10, 2009 - Pilatus_12 on Gran Torino
Great movie

Didn't like the kid actor... could not understand a word he was saying even when he didn't say much. But I applaud Clint for giving opportunities to new young actors.

(no rating) Jan 10, 2009 - Mikey123 on Gran Torino


So sorry Clint chose to use certain minorities as the scum in the movie. Also apologies that this got your liberal PC pink undies in a wad.

Jan 10, 2009 - rowdyrae on Gran Torino
Gran Torinois GREAT! Eastwood should win the Oscar!

I live in Illinois far from Charlotte but I had to write when I read the reviews from Mr. Toppman.
Did he forget his glasses and hearing aid at home?
I am retired and going to the cinema is my hobby. I have seen all the academy award nominated films with the exception of "The Reader", (which I do intend to see)
Anyhow.....I enjoyed many of the films, but as of tonight I will be rooting for Clint Eastwood on Academy Award night!
Clint Eastwood as "Walt Kowalski" was absolutely fantastic and sooooo believable.
Do yourself a favor folks....most DEFINITELY GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Jan 09, 2009 - huggiebare on Gran Torino
Grand Torino is THE BEST

Lawrence Toppman should be very-very ashamed he wrote such a HORRIBLE review about Clint Eastwood and Grand Torino. He is jealous that he isn't and never will be as good as Clint is in this movie. I recommend that everyone go see it and you will see what Clint can still do in his 70's. I give this movie a 10 star. Be ashamed Lawerence>>>Very ashamed. Fooy on you...

Jan 09, 2009 - lucyhp on Gran Torino
Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood is the movie which is the whole point. I'm glad I don't depend on media reviews or I would miss a lot of good movies.

Jan 09, 2009 - Malpaso on Gran Torino
Keep your back to the sun, Toppman.

You've never liked me, have you "Lawrence"? Though it frightens me to potentially agree with the likes of someone named drunkmullet, I'll reserve judgement for my personal Charlotte viewing and get back to you. You are one of the best writers on staff....I'll give you that. Even Sondra thinks so. Squint

Jan 09, 2009 - pretendtomakeadifference on Gran Torino
Toppman is a fool....awesome movie

Great movie...Eastwood is great and toppman is nuts. Go watch a Michael Moore movie buddy.

Jan 09, 2009 - kdeese on Gran Torino
Gran Torino

MUST SEE! A great movie!

(no rating) Jan 09, 2009 - aic22 on Gran Torino

Toppman's a moron

(no rating) Jan 09, 2009 - tcollie15 on Gran Torino
Toppman is constantly WRONG

Lawerence thinks the movie stinks?? It must be a hell of a flick then. I'll never forget Toppman thinking AI (Artificial Intelligence) was excellent. That was the worst movie ever made.

Jan 09, 2009 - drunkmullet on Gran Torino
great movie

I guess rolling stones magazine is wrong giving them 4 stars and you are the real dealio... two stars.. you must be from Russia.

Jan 08, 2009 - JEdwards on Gran Torino
Now, it's a must see!

Now that LT has officially panned Gran Torino, it has made my must see list. Check out RottenTomatoes.com and review this movie and you'll see that LT is just having another bad day. Unless a movie is totally irrelevant or has subtitles, LT just can't seem to enjoy it.

Jan 08, 2009 - JamesQC on Gran Torino
Great movie

This is a great movie. I don't normally write reviews on here, and I won't make this one lengthy, but this is vintage Clint Eastwood. You could call the look on his face the scowl of staring at the sun, or not following your mother's advice. I call it classic Clint Eastwood. These are the type of no-nonsense mannerisms that made Clint Eastwood a star, from his cowboy and western days, to his Dirty Harry and Magnum Force days. If you liked Bridges of Madison County, this movie is not for you, but if you want to see Clint be a "man's man" (albeit a racist one), this is a great movie.

Jan 08, 2009 - papanther44 on Gran Torino
This movie actually has a Story Line

Wow, how novel an idea. With all the comic book movies and other inane worthless movies being spewed out by Hollywood, it's refreshing to see a movie with an actual story line and a script. Maybe Toppman was expecting special effects and political correctness.

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