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REVIEW: “Gran Turino”

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her

If the rumors are true and this is Clint Eastwood’s final performance in front of the camera, then "Gran Turino" will be a fine swan song. Just don’t go in under the misapprehension that you’re going to see the equivalent of John Wayne in "The Shootist."

The film is set in a Detroit suburb that once served as the baby boomer bastion for the white working class but over the years has transformed into a racially charged ghetto where the old white guard struggles to accept the changing way of life for what was once the heart of the manfacturing sector of the United States. One such block is occupied by Walter Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a racist elderly veteran of the Korean conflict whose wife has just passed. In fact, the film begins with the funeral of his wife and the gathering of family and friends held in his home afterwards, which is juxtaposed with a party that a Hmung family is having next door to celebrate the birth of a child.

If you think that metaphor reads as a bit heavy-handed, wait until you see it in action. It and other metaphors employed by this film are so heavy, in fact, that I worried at times I was going to pull my back out. The most glaring example comes at the film’s climax, which contains a visual metaphor that I might label lazy and clumsy, but more than anything it’s simply perplexing in terms of its relevance (or lack thereof) to the story.

Clint Eastwood goofs around with his cast, showing them
his impression of a White Supremacist Scarecrow

If the lack of subtlety and finesse at times aren’t enough of a distraction for you, than you’re sure to be taken out of the experience by the terrible delivery of actors Bee Vang ("Thao") and Ahney Her ("Sue"), the precocious teens next door who predictably win over the unhappy and close-minded white widower (Eastwood). Her’s poor performance was compounded by her character’s annoying habit of lecturing absolutely everybody on-screen. All of whom deserve it, mind you, but it was supposed to be precocious but in the hands of a novice like Hher became painfully irritating. It got so bad that I was disappointed when we arrived in the third act of the film and I realized we weren’t going to hear Eastwood’s character growl the words "shut up" or "please stop talking" towards her.

What saves this film, though, is Eastwood’s performance. Through wonderfully cheesy growls (literally – the character growls in disapproval several times throughout the course of the film) and his matter of fact delivery, Eastwood makes us believe and cheer for Kowalski from the beginning despite his faults. Eastwood was so good, in fact, that it almost made me forget how formulaic and pedestrian the film was as a cross-generational redemption tale.

For all the criticisms I’ve levied against the film, though, I have to honestly ask "who cares?" The film is a bit shallow, yes, but it’s also a lot of fun and there’s certain lines and images from the film that are certain to become iconic in stature. It’s certainly dumb at times, but it’s at least clever in its presentation and for all its weaknesses avoids preaching to its audience.

I’m not sure whether or not I should give full credit to Eastwood for saving a film that could have been awful, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed myself for the duration of the film despite flaws that would normally drive me into a dorky rage. Perhaps it’s because I truly love almost everything Eastwood’s done ("Blood Work" being one glaring example) or that I was given a sufficient heads up that this film wasn’t as good as people were saying it was but that Eastwood’s performance was.

In any case, I’m not telling you to go in with low expectations. Go in with no expectations at all, then you should be fine.

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