Watching any preview of Gran Torino will leave you with the wrong impression. Every bit of marketing has done its best to leave you with the idea that this is American History X meets The Punisher, starring old man Clint Eastwood. At the risk of spoiling anything, I feel it’s important to issue deceived moviegoers a warning: This is not an action movie. But don’t worry, the movie is great, and so is Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, seems madder every second of the movie than I have ever been in my life. This is appropriate to the story, and it’s pretty easy to accept and move on from, but it deserves specific mention. It’s not that he feigns a generic grumpiness throughout the movie. Oh no, he very specifically hates every other character’s action in every scene, and he hates them good.
Except for Sue Lor. Sue, played by Ahney Her, frequently overshadows Eastwood’s wonderful performance with so much enthusiasm and happiness it is impossible not to love her. Her performance was touching and beautiful. She was vibrant when it was called for and, despite the constant energy her character first exuded, she was even better when somber later in the film.
The two stars in the movie are without a doubt Eastwood and Her, but that isn’t to say the rest of the cast lets them down. Unlike other movies of late, where there are some excellent acting performances (Batman: The Dark Knight comes to mind), the entire cast gives believable three-dimensional performances and their combined performance is the best part of an altogether quality movie.
Any excellent cast needs good dialogue and a story to go with them, lest their quality fizzle out over the course of the film anti-climatically. The banter could be considered predictable in a lot of places: There’s Walt as the old bitter character that insults everything that moves, there’s Thao, the young teen learning to stand up for himself and become a man, there’s loveable and sassy Sue, and, of course, no shortage of different race gang members. Despite the easy labels that characters can have thrown on them and the expected way they would interact, the dialogue stays fresh and snappy throughout. Part of the lack of stagnancy is through the sheer scope of different slurs used by Walt throughout the picture.
The story is where the marketing really failed to accurately capture the film. Previews showed viewers that, yes, Eastwood was going to be an angry old man, and, yes, he’s living in a neighborhood full of gangs. But this isn’t an action movie about White Power Walt “cleansing” these violent neighborhoods in a hail of shots and slurs; this is a character piece on a misunderstood veteran whose wife has died and whose remaining family hates him. Walt tries to find a purpose for life again and his quest put this view in a very different place than expected when first walking into the theater. But it was still worth the visit.