2.5 stars (out of 4)
If it came from out of nowhere, this would be a 3-star movie. I’m docking it half a star for not meeting expectations.
Quickie recap: Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a mean old man whose wife just passed away. He lives in Detroit, worked at a Ford plant his entire adult life, appears to be haunted by atrocities he committed during the Korean War, and hates everybody – especially the Lors, a Vietnamese family who live next door. Especially when that family’s teen son, Thao Vang Lor (played by Bee Vang), makes a half-baked effort to steal Kowalski’s beloved 1972 Ford Gran Torino*. The attempted theft is a gang initiation; Thao doesn’t want to join, but in this neighborhood, he doesn’t have much choice …
INPO’s tagline: Archie Bunker sees the light.
Why it’s just okay: Start with Eastwood’s performance. He’s been getting raves for his Kowalski, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. He growls, he rasps, he drinks eight Pabst Blue Ribbons on his porch every afternoon. Big deal.
The screenplay (by Nick Schenk) has its moments, but too often it feels writerly, as opposed to real. During allegedly crackling dialog, you half expect a stage hand to lean into the shot with a sign reading This is a metaphor. And there are more than a few lazy clunkers. To wit: “What are you gonna do with your life, kid?” In a different scene: “You’re a good man, Walt.”
For my money, the whole production has a not-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is feel to it. The final scene and shot, in particular, could have been written and blocked by a group of AP English kids who’d just read The Grapes of Wrath.
* Car guy bonus: The Gran Torino itself is a strange choice as an iconic car. In the movie, Kowalski’s ride is coveted by all who lay eyes upon it, as if it’s the absolute zenith of the musclecar era. In fact, it’s closer to the nadir. By 1972 smog regulations, gas prices, and insurance rates had well and truly murdered musclecars; the ’72 Gran Torino, while handsome, was a pudgy, vinyl-roofed pig of a car that didn’t do much of anything well.