A review of “Gran Torino” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: * 1/2

Rating: R for language and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes



Clint Eastwood lays a goose egg with this uncharacteristically dreary drama about the limits of respect and tolerance.

Eastwood stars and directs himself as cantankerous Korean War vet Walt Kowalski with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Matterhorn. He lives alone – his wife having just passed – and has no relationship to speak of with his adult sons.

Walt appears to be surrounded on all sides by Hmong families who keep to themselves and their own cultural curiosities. Until a neighborhood teen named Thao (Bee Vang) finds himself with a debt of honor to repay after he attempts to steal Walt’s prized, cherry condition 1972 Gran Torino.

Walt puts Thao to work in his home and yard, grudgingly handing over small odd jobs and offering manly advice on testosterone and tools. A relationship blossoms as Walt breaks out of his shell and Thao feels admiration for the father figure he never had (groan). Side plot features Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her) repeatedly harassed by a local Hmong gang who ultimately take things one step too far.

Pretty sure the venerable Eastwood gets carte blanche at Warner Bros. because no studio exec worth his or her salt would willingly greenlight this poorly acted and heavily clichéd melodrama that’s more TV-movie-of-the-week than end of the season Oscar bait.

Clint could do this part in his sleep and he does, overplaying the wounded psyche/conflicted Catholic routine yet again. A tired caricature of himself seen one time too many from “Dirty Harry” to “Million Dollar Baby”. He delivers his lines Clint-style, growling “Get off my lawn” with the same threatening timber as Harry Callahan’s “Go ahead, make my day”. Walt’s racist posturing is downright cringe-worthy and one has to ponder his questionable choices for the pivotal roles of Thao and Sue; wooden, amateur performances that make Walt’s obvious shortcomings look worse not better. Ditto the local priest (Christopher Carley) whose constant refrain on redemption has the dramatic heft of a wet hankie.

Climax is an overindulgent grasp at something meaningful that misses by a country mile. “Torino” reeks of a bad vanity project -- disappointing doesn’t begin to describe.