Clint Eastwood must've snapped while he was putting the finishing touches on "Changeling."
I guess after all those months of shooting Angelina Jolie crying over her lips and wailing about getting her son back, the ornery ol' cuss in Eastwood must've come bursting out of him. "No more of this Lifetime movie-of-the-week stuff," the ornery ol' cuss told Eastwood (I'm assuming). "Let's make a movie for tough SOBs like us, like we used to!"
And thus, "Gran Torino" was born.
Man, what I can say about this film? It's certainly not like his recent work not in the slightest. It's a melange (yes, I said melange!) of politically incorrect dialogue, laughably stereotypical characters, amateur-dramatic performances and all-around old-man bitterness. It's wrong in every sense of the word. And yet, that's what makes this mess so appealing and even, a little bit brilliant.
Eastwood assumes duties behind and in front of the camera on this one, starring as retired auto-factory worker, Korean-war vet and bigoted old fart Walt Kowalski. Recently widowed, Kowalski spends his golden years on his porch being a continually disgusted misanthrope, barely standing the sight of his family let alone the punk kids and immigrant families who populate his neighborhood. (Just the sight of a pierced navel makes the man literally growl with disdain.)
While his fam thinks he's ready to head off to the retirement home, he's still tough and gruff enough to pull out his rifle and stop a kid from stealing his prized 1972 Gran Torino or defiantly tell some Hmong gangbangers to get off his lawn. This earns him some cool points with his Hmong next-door neighbors, who offer up a family member, the shy, timid Thao (Bee Vang) aka the kid who tried to steal his Torino to do work around his house and in the neighborhood. Eventually, the two begin to bond and, next thing you know, the same old man who can't stop hurling slurs at these people ("eggroll," "zipperhead" and "dragon lady" all make appearances) starts becoming more comfy with them than with his own family.
Now, even though I'm making "Torino" sound like a film about tolerance and acceptance amongst generations and races of people and all that jazz, don't forget that the movie is also seriously whacked in the head. Working from a clumsy script by Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson, Eastwood seems to take particular glee in directing a movie this acerbic and crochety, since many of his most iconic characters have been the same way. It doesn't even bother him that the story's perspective of minorities hasn't changed since 1979 (black people actually say "Honky!") or that most of the no-name cast turns in community theater-caliber performances. Heck, even the perpetually growling Eastwood doesn't give the best performance in the movie. (That would go to the lady who plays the Hmong family's grandmother, who amusingly manages to outspit the Man with No Name in one scene.)
However, "Torino" mostly exhibits a brash, brutish shamelessness that's admittably enjoyable to watch. Seeing the 78-year-old Eastwood whoop the behinds of guys way, way, way, waaaaaay younger than him is both preposterous and exciting. It's as though after years of making all these critically-acclaimed modern-day classics, he's reverting back to his trashy, populist days and has made a movie for all those fans who remember him when he used to co-star with orangutans.
Even though Eastwood's name has been associated with award-winning excellence in recent years, "Torino" probably won't be held in the same regard. And I'm beginning to think that was the movie's and Eastwood's intention all along. In an infernal season of self-important prestige flicks vying for major-award attention, "Torino," much like its protagonist, couldn't care less. A foul, tacky, tongue-in-cheek vigilante flick for "Matlock" viewers, "Gran Torino" couldn't have come at a better time.