"Gran Torino" is the last of the movies that I wanted to see before the Academy Award nominations are announced early Thursday morning. I'd originally seen the one-sheet for the movie, but it didn't tell me anything about the movie, so I had no feeling for it one way or the other.
And then I saw the trailer, and I found it intriguing. I am neither a huge fan nor a detractor of Clint Eastwood's - I like him ok. I don't see movies just because of him, and I don't avoid movies because of him. The gruff old man he portrayed in the trailer seemed interesting.
I really thought the movie was simply amazing. I had noticed that the run-time of the film was just shy of two hours, which I thought was pretty long for the kind of movie this looked to be. For the most part, it's a very talky movie, but you don't notice the time going by at all. The characters are very well painted, and the time of the movie is well-spent in getting to know the characters. You can pretty much tell from the trailer where the movie is going to go, and you know that a very important lesson is going to be learned, and that there's probably going to be a showdown, and there's not too much that is really going to be a surprise. This movie is one of those cases, though, where it's not necessarily the destination that's the payoff - it's the journey. Yeah, I know, that sounds really cliche and trite, but in certain cases, this being one of them, it really is about seeing how the characters are going to get to where you know they have to get. If the development isn't interesting, the story isn't going to be interesting.
Similar to my comments for "Doubt", the highlights of this movie stand in the performances. Clint Eastwood is really remarkable as Walt, the racist grouch who displays a lot of the same qualities as Archie Bunker. Walt is unabashedly and unashamedly racist - but he's pretty much an equal opportunity racist. He becomes the unwilling hero of the neighbors next door on multiple occasions, but he finds that he has much more in common with them than his own estranged family. And like Archie Bunker, he never really loses his racism, but it's tempered by his interactions with them as he develops a relationship with them. When you first meet Walt, you see his racism and his bad disposition, and you hear his two adult sons talking, and you sort of feel for them that they have a father like that to contend with. And then you realize that with kids and grandkids like that, it's not all that surprising that he hasn't warmed up to them.
Christopher Carley is really terrific as the young priest who made a promise to Walt's dying wife that he would keep an eye on Walt, and his persistence ends up nurturing a begrudging friendship with Walt.
The two kids next door are played by newcomers it seems, but they were both terrific, so I expect we'll be seeing lots more of each of them. And grandma was an absolute riot. I loved her.
I had unfortunately come across a spoiler to the end of the movie beforehand - entirely my own fault. I knew that Walt committed suicide to help the kids, so as the movie approached its conclusion, I thought maybe he was going to blow himself up in the building and take out the entire gang as well. I didn't know that he pretty much committed death-by-gang so that all the gang members would presumably be prosecuted and taken away, saving the two kids next door. Yeah, ok, Walt dying in the Christ position was a bit cheesy and over-the-top. That was probably my only criticism. But otherwise, it's a wonderful, well-made film which hits a lot of different notes and emotions.