By Christian DiMartino
Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino received fairly enthusiastic reviews and it was a pretty big deal at the box office back in its wide release in 2009 (it is technically a 2008 release though). But yet when it came to Oscar season, it was left off the board entirely. I have always found this puzzling, because I have often considered this among Eastwood’s finest directorial outings, and I personally think it’s better than all of the actual 2008 Best Picture nominees (those being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire). A bold statement, maybe, but I’m just speaking how I feel.
Granted, I don’t think Gran Torino was the best film of 2008. I would say that The Dark Knight and The Wrestler were a notch above it, but I have covered Interstellar and Black Swan, so I felt like it was time to give Eastwood his chance. Also, to acknowledge this underrated film for what it is.
Sure it has its corny elements, but despite its somewhat racist demeanor, Gran Torino is a wonderful film, anchored by a tremendous performance from Eastwood. It’s a performance he could do in his sleep, but it’s an utter delight to see. It shows that after all these years, the man still has it, and he may never lose it.
Initially rumored to be a 6th Dirty Harry film, Gran Torino tells a small story, but yet it’s still our beloved Clint kicking ass. Here, he plays Walt Kowalski, a grumpy, somewhat racist former veteran who lives next door to a group of Hmongs. Of course, it takes him a bit to warm up to them, referring to them as “Gooks” and “Zipperheads,” but he eventually befriends the younger ones, Sue and Tao.
Their friendship forms the basis of the story, but yet so does their struggle. Turns out, they have harassment problems with another group of Hmongs who constantly torment this family and occasionally, the people around them. Does Walt just let it go? You bet your ass he doesn’t.
Here we have an Eastwood performance that we have seen before, but with a different little spin to it. He’s a hardass, for sure, but yet he also displays a softer, sweeter side. I never thought I’d describe an Eastwood performance as sweet, but it deserves to be called such. I would say that this is easily one of his best performances, and why he didn’t score a Best Actor nomination is beyond me.
Truth be told though, I feel like this film deserved more love across the board. For all its grit and the occasionally disturbing element, Gran Torino also has a surprising heart beating deep inside. It’s a film with a good sense of humor, but yet there’s a few powerful moments thrown in there as well. It also has an ending that’s kind of a bummer, but yet it also brings a smile.
I love this film, if you couldn’t tell. I would say it ranks among Eastwood’s finest, including Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, American Sniper, Letters From Iwo Jima, Unforgiven, Hereafter, and Changeling. The Academy might not have given it its due, but it’s one I won’t soon shake off.