I'll start my review of Clint Eastwood's solid drama Gran Torino by telling a personal story. About two months after this picture came out, my grandpa passed away at the age of 85. My family has always been telling funny stories involving my grandpa when he was younger and I remember being really impressed by them. Naturally, when we saw this picture after his passing, my family was reminded a little bit of grandpa through the main character played by Eastwood and they really fell in love with this movie. While I can't really praise it as highly as my parents do, there are still certain things about Gran Torino that are done very well.
Clint Eastwood is ideal casting as Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran whose wife has recently passed away. This unfortunate event naturally makes him a more grouchy old man than ever before. In addition to his escalating feeling of disconnection from his son and his family (who may I add really don't seem to give a crap that Walt's wife is gone), he doesn't like how his neighborhood has transformed into a dump dominated by poor immigrants.
One night, one of his neighbors (Bee Vang) is put under pressure from a gang led by his cousin (Doua Moua) to try and steal Walt's beloved Ford Gran Torino. After Walt catches him and scares off the rest of the gang, his neighbor's family offers to repay him for the good deed by practically forcing him to let the kid do whatever jobs Walt desires. Walt reluctantly agrees although he wants nothing to do with his neighbors, but then he eventually forms a respect for the guy who tried to steal his car as well as his older, wiser sister (Ahney Her). When certain complications ensue between these two and the same gang, Walt makes it his duty to protect the neighbors from harm.
Like I've hinted at before, the biggest reason Gran Torino works is because of Clint Eastwood. It's not just the fact that some aspects about his character is very similar to my grandpa, it's also the fact that he's convincing at bringing this character to life and that we would buy whatever reactions his character would have towards certain situations like his neighbors intruding on his property ("Get off my lawn"). I also thought John Carroll Lynch was entertaining as Walt's Italian friend/barber and the conversation that they have together in that one scene in the barber shop was done very well.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of the cast, but I'm afraid I really can't. I thought the Asian actors weren't really that convincing at delivering with their performances. With the exception of Her getting some exceptional lines, I really believed that the Asian actors seemed to have trouble basically speaking their lines and expressing the emotions their characters were experiencing. I simply didn't feel that they were up for the tasks given to them, or that they were ready to tackle them in the first place.
Additionally, I really found the characters of Walt's son's family to be way too cold-hearted and mean-spirited to like. While I do get the impression that they were intentionally supposed to be bitter, I feel that the film succeeded all too well at making them unlikable to the point where they should have just edited out the scenes with these characters rather than show them at all. The fact that the film doesn't really dive into why Walt and the family of his son can't get along with each other doesn't really solve this problem either.
Although the flaws with the Asian actors and the family of Walt's son are too significant to ignore, most people will probably go see this movie mainly for Clint Eastwood. On that aspect alone, there's plenty of aspects about Eastwood's performance in this picture that many people will like.
The fact that Eastwood's character reminds my parents a little bit of my grandpa is one reason why me and my family respond to this picture the way we do. This film basically reminds us of a crucial member of our family who is stubborn and crusty on the outside, but is also affectionate on the inside as well. Sometimes, that's what a film can become, a reminder of a certain aspect of your life that even if it's gone permanently will never leave you.