Critics love it. Eastwood fans love it. So why didn’t I love it? Well….there are a few reasons, but probably not what you would expect. Let’s look at what I DID like about the film “Gran Torino” first.
As a director, Eastwood is as credible as they come. Most everything he does gets Oscar nominations anymore and his eye behind the camera is just as good as his twitchy eye when he acts. He is obviously one of the premier Hollywood directors these days and this movie is definitely an Eastwood movie. That being said, this is NOT his best film as a director. It has its moments, butit does drag a little in parts and truthfully, there just isn’t a whole lot of interesting angles to be had in a dismal little part of Detroit. So the cinematography is average at best.
As an actor, Eastwood can still carry a film. He’s very good in this movie and, even when he was busy channeling “Archie Bunker”, he still came across as believable. And its a tribute to Eastwood as an actor that he could turn such a dislikable character into someone that we learn to care for. Eastwood’s character (Walt Kowalski) finally gets to shine whenever he visits his barber. There, the racists barbs fly between them and you find out that Kowalski can take as well as he gives it. And that almost changed my opinion of him.
Now…for the things I DIDN’T like about this film. The most pressing issue was the secondary characters. Aside from the young teenage Vietnamese girl who lives next door (played by Ahney Her), this cast is relatively unschooled in the ways of acting. All of the punks, the relatives, a priest who follows him around and, in the most important role, “Toad” (the boy that Kowalski becomes friends with) are not good actors at all. All of the dialogue was wooden and very unprofessional. It was surprising to see how bad the acting was in a movie that was being touted as one of the best of the year.
Also, the script is kinda wooden. It’s not the most orginal plot and I found myself pretty much calling it up to the ending. Every scene sort of carries itself out. There is not much here that you will walk away saying, “I never saw THAT coming!”, and that makes it very average as far as a I was concerned.
Back to the Walt Kowalski character… I still feel Kowalski is very one-dimensional and it’s Eastwood that makes him less shallow with his acting ability. Nothing can change the fact that Kowalski is a very bitter and selfish old man and he is set in his ways. No matter how likeable he becomes towards the end of the film, I never really saw him as a totally changed person. Has he atoned for his racism and bigotry by getting to know these 2 kids? Maybe a little. But I don’t think this makes him a complex character really. He’s just an old guy biding his time and he has become angry and bitter through the years. So much so that there is no one who escapes his wrath…even his kids (who have apparently grown and done very well for themselves). He is, by nature, a very unlikeable character. But because he is played by Clint Eastwood, I think this makes him okay with the audience because we know, eventually, he will grow on us. Which is too bad. It might have been interesting to see how a different actor would have played this character. But with Dirty Harry just waiting to bust out on some street thugs, I never once thought of him as completely unlikable. Seeing the Kowalski character as completely unlikeable might have made this film a little more interesting.
So there you have it. Definitely not one of the best films of 2008, but not terrible either. Just wasn’t as good as I thought it was gonna be.
Overall Rating: B-