Saturday, February 21, 2009

GRAN TORINO - Dirty Harry Meets The Karate Kid

GRAN TORINO is a mediocre flick that has, bizarrely, garnered a lot of praise, not least for Clint Eastwood's performance. Bizarre because Clint Eastwood always seems to play the same character - no nonsense, grizzly Real Men, who know their way around a gun but have conflicted relationships with their families. The only thing that's different in this flick is that Clint chooses to give his character, Walt Kowalski, the same ludicrously gravelly voice as Christian Bale foisted on Batman, complete with an unintentionally comedic penchant for growling like a pissed-off rottweiler whenever someone does something that disappoints him.

This is a common occurrence. Walt Kowalski is a retired auto-worker, traumatised Korean war vet, widower and bigot. The first third of the movie laboriously establishes that he hates his spoiled children. He hates that his neighbourhood has been taken over by Asian immigrants. He hates the local priest. Frankly, you could started the movie twenty minutes in with no loss to your understanding of Walt's character.

The movie is, then, about Walt's transformation from insular bitterness to caring mentor to the bullied kid who lives next door. Walt's still casually racist, but he genuinely cares - building up Thao's confidence with girls, teaching him a trade, getting him a job - even lending him his sweet mint condition 1972 sports car. I swear that the middle section of this movie felt just like THE KARATE KID. It was positively saccharine and fairly hard to watch given the stilted acting of the amateur Hmongs and Christopher Carley as Father Janovich.

The surprisingly light-weight middle section also jars with the sombre tone of the final half hour of the movie. The tragedy and highly emotional ending are undeserved. The result is a well-intentioned, nicely shot, but fundamentally flawed film, skewered by weak performances in the supporting cast, odd choices on the part of Clint Eastwood and a jarringly uneven tone.

GRAN TORINO was released last year in the USA and is currently on release in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the Philippines and Russia. It opens next week in Belgium, France, Croatia, Greece and Israel. It opens on March 6th in Argentina, Germany, Iceland and Spain and on March 12th in the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, It opens on March 19th in South Korea, Brazil and Norway and on March 26th in Singapore and Poland. It opens on April 3rd in Estonia and Finland; on April 9th in Slovakia; on April 1th in the Czech Republic and Romania. Finally, it opens on April 2th in Japan.

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