Author: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Historical fiction, gangs, drama
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence)
Age Group: 18+
Summary: Walt has nothing left in the world, and some pathetic neighbors to top it all off. He's got enough on his mind, what with all the terrible things he found himself doing in the war, and he really doesn't want to deal with people who don't even speak English. But Walt's a good man, deep down, and that's what eventually brings about his end. He just can't stand around and watch the neighbor boy be harassed by a gang. He can't watch a kid who will cross the street to help an old woman pick up her groceries get dragged into a big mess which will eventually land him in jail. And he can't resist the good food the neighbors have, nor the quick tongue of the boy's older sister.
Then suddenly it narrows down to a simple problem: life, or death. Whatever he chooses, those around him will also be dealt a card.
Word of Warning
- The entire movie revolves around a man who is haunted by what he did in the war. We don't know much, but we know he killed 13 men (or boys), many of whom did not want to be fighting. He shot one particularly young one in the face. None of his war stories are shown in flashbacks. They are all him speaking aloud to others.
- Walt is sick and coughs up blood from time to time.
- Walt has little relationship with his children. They all seem bitter toward each other. Later we find out he regrets this but didn't know how to grow close to his boys.
- A girl has various piercings and her shirt shows some skin around her waist. Her and her siblings are incredibly disrespectful.
- Walt is an angry man. That much is quite clear in everything he does, though it's also clear that he's lost and struggling.
- The story revolves around the neighbors who are Hmong. Differences in culture become awkward for Walt and his neighbors. All sorts of stereotypes are pushed forward (but clearly stereotypes, some even debunked).
- The next door girl claims her family eats cats, not dogs.
- Blood is everywhere. Blood that Walt coughs up, that comes from people's faces after fights, when Walt angrily punches his fist through a glass door, and many other times. The two biggest moments are when the neighbor boy is injured when his house is shot at and has blood on his neck (he was not, apparently, shot) and when his sister comes home, her face bloodied and blood running down her legs (she is taken to the hospital but is home the next day--more on this later). Also, when Walt punches the glass door, he sits down and thinks, and blood drips from his finger tips.
- Shooting. People are shot at, guns are pulled. No one is actually hit until the very end, when a man is riddled by bullets from many different men. We see very little blood (a bit on his arm, a small drip from his mouth) but we do see the marks from the bullets on his jacket. He dies and is carted away on a stretcher in a black bag.
- Walt often has a gun with him and isn't afraid to pull it. From his attitude, we suspect he's not afraid to use it, though as we get to know him better, it's easy to assume using it could be the greatest fear he has.
- Walt makes a finger gun and "shoots" several people throughout the movie.
- A boy tries to steal a car.
- A girl is almost raped. The guys make suggestive comments and push her around a bit, and she responds with angry words. Nothing happens and she's rescued.
- Later, the same girl actually is raped, though off screen. This results in the scene mentioned above where she comes home with a bloodied face and blood on her legs.
- Language abounds--and not the good kind. I honestly lost track of how many times particular words were used, or even which ones were used, but the most common ones are as follows: f***, b****, Jesus Christ (muttered twice by a priest, among other people), and many many others. One thing I noticed was that it was hard to make it three lines without hearing f***.
- Racial insults everywhere.
- Walt accuses a young priest of knowing nothing, then throws a bunch of insults at him, among them that the priest is a 27 year old virgin. The priest later admits that Walt was right, but that he learned a lot from the man.
- Walt's barber is holding a pornographic magazine in one of his scenes. The viewers get a brief glance at it.
- Walt is continually rude to the priest, but eventually does go to confession.
- Walt confesses to kissing another woman while he was married, saying "it just happened." He follows up with a few more sins.
- Walt's final sacrifice is self-giving, but also partially suicidal. It's hard to give it an accurate label.
When a movie has a list of problems like the one above, and is rated R, one really starts to wonder why in the world it would ever be watched by anyone looking for decent entertainment. And so I follow with a list of only a few of the good points.
- Walt truly does try to change, and he does. In the process, he assumes protection over the Hmong family next door, even taking the young son (who tried to steal his car) under his wing and teaching him how to be a man.
- The boy next door tries to stay out of trouble as best he can.
- The priest is calm, persistent, kind, and strong. He does his best with what he's been given.
- Walt's last words are the beginning of a Hail Mary.
- Walt goes through a serious conversion, but not the kind we're used to hearing about from people who want to tell their stories.
- Walt puts his all into helping the boy next door stay out of trouble and also setting him up for a better future than he was currently in line for.
- When it all comes down to that choice between life and death, the neighbor boy is enraged and wants to avenge his sister. Walt knows what must be done, but he doesn't want the boy to kill anyone. He manages to lock the boy in his basement, protecting him from a terrible fate.
This isn't the type of movie I pick up when I want to watch something. When a friend suggested I review Gran Torino, I jumped at the challenge. I'm glad I did, or else I would have missed out on a beautiful story.
But it was beautiful in a very of gritty way. I think we often see beautiful as soft, pretty, and fragile, sort of like a rose. Sure, that's beauty, but that's not the only way it can be manifest. It's also gritty, dangerous, and wild. And that's the side shown in this movie. Walt honestly annoyed me at first, but by the end, I was heartbroken. He taught so much to the neighbors, saved their lives, and made a huge step in his personal life. He learned to sacrifice.
But it was a different kind of sacrifice. Because Walt encountered all sorts of nasty sacrifice when he was in the war. This time, he had to fully and willingly commit himself, knowing he might very well gain nothing at all.
And that, right there, is beautiful.
Sadly, that beauty is muddied by all the objectionable content in the movie. It's arguable that the beauty wouldn't have been so strong without the objectionable content, but where does that leave us?