Monday, February 09, 2009

My Thumb Waaaaaaaaay Up: Gran Torino

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
Co-Starring: Christopher Carley
Rated R for language, violence, mature themes.

I'm going to tell you my conclusion first (if you didn't guess already by the post's title). Gran Torino was the Best Picture of 2008. Yup, I said it. The only movie I can say came close this year was WALL•E and neither were even nominated for the top honor.

My readers know I've been on a movie watching frenzy to catch up with all the top films ahead of the Oscars. In the past several weeks, I've seen Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Milk, The Reader, and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.

I haven't seen Frost/Nixon or Benjamin Button, so perhaps my decision is a bit premature.

All I can tell you is that I have not been this moved since I saw Philadelphia back in 1993. I was holding back sobs. I was afraid I would lose control and let loose with a gasp and inhale the people seated in front of me. It's one thing when my eyes well up, or when the tears stream down my face, but this movie put me in a place I haven't been in 15 years.

The story involves a retired man (Eastwood) who has lost his wife at the start of the movie. He's alone, with a forceful personality and strong opinions formed by his service in the Korean War. He comes from a pre-PC time when every nationality had an ethnic slur and speaking such wasn't taboo. I remember this in my own neighborhood when I was growing up. Things that were said openly then would be cause for a lawsuit today!

Residing next to Eastwood is a Hmong family. Their Asian heritage rubs him the wrong way. The remainder of the film is his interaction with this family and the faces of his changing neighborhood.

The title of the movie comes from his prized possession — a 1972 Gran Torino that he keeps in perfect condition in the garage. We find out he worked for years in the Ford factory that produced them and actually put the steering column in the one he bought.

What I Liked
• Strong performance by the two new faces playing the Hmong teens living next door.
• It was educational, showing the Hmong and their culture.
• The story taps into the fear of the changing face of America and the degradation of morality and the value of life.
• It is paced well with no slow spots.

What I Didn't Like
• The Catholic priest irritated me. I don't know if it was the character or the actor.
• The level of ethnic slurs was over the top. It seemed that the writing tried too hard to convince the viewer of something we realize early on. I wasn't offended, it was just repetitive.

If you want to see the movie I'm proclaiming the best of the year, go see Gran Torino. And bring a box of tissues.


evilganome said...

If you haven't seen Benjamin Button yet, spare yourself. It is 3 hours of your life you will never get back! Trust me.

rodger said...

I saw Milk this past weekend and it moved me in the way this did you. Of course...I lived in the Bay Area and Harvey was a hero to all of us so it was kind of like reliving that painful experience. Sean Penn is a genious!

I'll try to get to this before Oscar night.

Y | O | Y said...

Roger--I agree that Milk is incredible and Sean Penn even better than that. It falls into my category of tears streaming down my cheeks and not quite the holding back of embarrassing sobs. Of those that are nominated, I think Milk should win. (I have a feeling it's going to pick up a lot of guilty votes from those that screwed Brokeback.)

Living in San Fran at that time must have been such a great life experience. I've been daydreaming of moving to San Francisco some day.

Mark H said...

I'm not a big Eastwood fan, and somehow Torino just seems to be some old crank saying, "Hey..get off my lawn!!!" So I guess I have to do a bit more research, eh?