Do you miss Archie Bunker? Are you curious to find out how Carroll O'Connor's stone-cold bigot would have reacted to our current, culturally diverse society? And did you ever dream of seeing racist old Archie packing heat as he spewed bile all over the "spooks," "gooks," and other non-Caucasians who were unlucky enough to cross his path? Then Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino is the movie for you.
Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) served his time in the military, paid his dues at the auto plant -- American cars only, of course -- and wants to spend his days as a widower in peace. He is disgusted by his ignorant, oafish sons and their selfish children -- the ugliest characters you'll see on screen this year. But his disdain isn't limited to kin. Walt also hates the "eggroll," "fish-head" "Charlie Chans" who've moved into his blue-collar Detroit suburb. Article continues below
Walt's worst nightmare comes true one evening when Thao (Bee Vang), a painfully shy Hmong teenager, tries to boost the old man's vintage Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. Walt catches Thao in the act, bringing shame to the family. To pay off the debt, Thao begins shadowing Walt so he can learn to grow up and be a man (translation: hate people with a passion).
This odd-couple pairing has powered many a comedy, but the laughs in Torino are unintentional. Eastwood plays his material very seriously, and I believe he thinks we'll be moved as Thao accepts more responsibility and Walt grows less intolerant. But the storytelling is plodding and ham-fisted, and Torino ends up spinning its wheels.
Eastwood does do something unique in Gran Torino -- he surrounds himself with rank amateurs, from "intimidating" gangbangers straight out of central casting to his neighbors who, in time, will learn to respect the curmudgeon living next door. Vang, in particular, is shockingly blasť and uncomfortable delivering lines. Character actor John Carroll Lynch, meanwhile, is miscast as Walt's racist, Italian barber. And I felt sorry for apple-cheeked Christopher Carley, who plays an optimistic parish priest. The character serves two purposes. Eastwood enjoys having Walt talk down to whippersnapper cast members, and the idea of challenging religion has become a constant through the director's recent pictures.
But Nick Schenk has penned a graceless and insensitive script littered with clunkers that are meant to pass as life lessons handed down from one generation to the next. "Sounds like you know more about death than you do living," Carley's priest utters to Walt over drinks at the local watering hole (where, coincidentally, the men gather during the day to share racist jokes). And in return, Clint squints. It's pretty much his lone response through much of Torino, until the credits, when he sings the film's theme song. That's when you'll wince.