Gran Torino – A Magnificent Tour de Force

Desperate to cure ourselves of the horrific trauma of watching that stolen shit Ghajini, we were eager for some purifying Ganga Jal.

And we found our moksha in the new Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino (in limited release now in the U.S.).

Gran Torino is that rare all sizzle and all steak movie.

If you thought Slumdog Millionaire was great, you ain’t seen nothing till you watch this splendid tour de force produced and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Yes sir, Clint Eastwood also plays the key role in this movie.

As the gruff recent widower Walt Kowalski much irritated by the arrival of Hmong immigrants as his new next-door neighbors, Clint Dirty Harry Eastwood turns in a mighty good performance that’s the talk of the town for its Oscar possibilities.

Gran Torino

Already hostile and racist in his attitude and words, Walt Kowalski becomes incensed when he catches one of his Hmong neighbors, the young boy Thao (Bee Vang), trying to steal his prized Gran Torino car as part of a gang initiation rite.

Gooks, zipperheads, chinks and swamp rats are only some of the racist insults Walt hurls at the Hmongs (some of them are not his neighbors but gang-members trying to get young Thao to join them).

In one of his particularly irate moments, Walt, a Korean war veteran, tells Thao:

We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea and use you for sandbags.

On another occasion, he tells some gang members in the hallmark menacing Clint Eastwood style:

Ever notice how once in a while you come across someone you shouldn’t fuck with. That’s me.

But as Thao makes amends for his attempted theft of the Gran Torino and with Thao’s bossy elder sister Sue (Ahney Her) acting as his guide to the family, the grouchy old man Walt slowly warms to his Hmong neighbors as he contrasts them to his own selfish children and trashy grandchildren.

As he acknowledges:

I have more in common with these gooks than with my own rotten, spoiled family.

But Gran Torino is more than just a racist tirade or a violent tale.

There are some superb comic moments and the one that lingers is the scene where Walt Kowalski takes his young neighbor Thao to the barber shop to ‘man him up’ before the boy starts on his construction job.

That scene with all its biting racist back-and-forth insults between the Italian-American barber Martin, the Polish American Walt and the Hmong American Thao is a hilarious riot.

To adopt a hackneyed Bollywood phrase, the barber salon scene alone is paisa vasool.

Whether in his lacerating interactions with the persistent Catholic priest Janovich (Christopher Carley), the early interactions with Thao and Sue, the later interactions with Thao, or in his run-ins with the Black and Hmong gangs, Clint Eastwood is a dynamo of virtuosity.

Oh, yeah the Gran Torino story packs a powerful punch. Without that, the rest is always nothing anyway.

If Clint Eastwood’s performance is nonpareil, the youngsters Bee Vang and Ahney Her who play Thao and Sue respectively handle their roles with complete aplomb.

Fine Denouement

When the Hmong house comes under gang-fire one night and Sue returns badly battered and bloodily raped by the Hmong gang members, Walt Kowalski’s anger reaches a crescendo as he smashes into the glass panes with his bare hands and leads into a blazingly brilliant denouement.

Unlike our idiot Bollywood movie-makers who go off gallivanting to Peru, Namibia, Switzerland, New York and Australia at the drop of a duppatta (primarily because they have no story worth telling), much of Gran Torino was filmed in a nondescript house and street (Detroit, we hear).

Also, will someone please tell our Bollywood and Kollywood troglodytes that there’s more to movies than cockamamie love stories full of bad songs and atrocious dances.


Such is the brilliance of the actors, the allure of the story, the sparkle of the dialogs and the dazzle of the screenplay in Gran Torino that 2-hrs and 9-min just whooshed past us.

The screenplay is by Nick Schenk based on the story by David Johannson and Schenk.

Folks, if you decide you are going to watch just one movie for the next six months Gran Torino is that movie.

If Gran Torino does not win Clint Eastwood one or more Oscars, By Shani we swear we’ll watch a Telugu movie (held up as the ne plus ultra of crappy Indian movies) and review it too.

To borrow a phrase from this gem of a movie, if bitter is your pain upon watching Ghajini, sweet will be your salvation upon watching Gran Torino.

(Wide release of Gran Torino in the U.S. on January 9. No idea when this movie will make it to our homeland India)

24 Responses to "Gran Torino – A Magnificent Tour de Force"

  1. navaraj   December 26, 2008 at 9:54 am

    I watched ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’. Good movie.Great acting by Brad Pitt. The make-up is excellent.Some changes have been made from the original contents of the book. The concept of “Eternal love” is introduced in the movie. Personally I feel the book was better. Still i enjoyed the movie. Responds:

    We might watch The curious case of Benjamin Button this weekend.


    We saw the trailer of The curious case of Benjamin Button when we went to see Seven Pounds.

  2. navaraj   December 26, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Chk this out!!! I came across this article in a leading magazine.
    “From the time of it’s origin to the present times, Malayalm film Industry has become a force to reckon in India.

    It is a fact that budget wise, the films from kerala cannot stand up at par with flicks from Tollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood but still standing inside limitations, Malayalam films with its excellent film makers and prolific actors have always stood out for the quality of their products.”

    Sadly most films from the past three years do not live up to these standards. Responds:

    Can’t remember if we have seen a Malayalam film in full. We plan to shortly (Netflix has 5 or 6 as we mentioned earlier in one of our comments).

  3. StrYngLad74   December 28, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    SI Said: Can’t remember if we have seen a Malayalam film in full. We plan to shortly (Netflix has 5 or 6 as we mentioned earlier in one of our comments).

    Like I pointed out in my retort to your “Slumdog Millionaire” review, YOU NEED TO SEE A LOT OF GOOD INDIAN FILMS, and Malayalam cinema has a lot to offer. Even their popular commercial hits (not the recent ones, but from the late 80’s and 90’s) were vastly superior in story-telling compared to the Bollywood and Kollywood crap. “His Highness Abdullah”, “No.20 Madras Mail”, “Oru CBI Diary Kurippu”, “Mazhaiyethum Munbe”, “Akkare Akkare Akkare” are well-made commercial hits.

    Among the parallel cinema in Kerala, “Vidheyan”, “Ponthan Mada”, “Perumazhakalam” (re-made as “Dor” by Nagesh Kukunoor), “Kaliyattam”, “Bharatham”, “Vanaprastham”, “Bhoothakkannadi” are excellent. Responds:

    Hope to watch Vanaprastham, Bhoothakkannadi, Bhavum, Chemmeen & Sadharam soon.

  4. aditya_k   December 29, 2008 at 7:21 am

    I agree with the guy above….you do need to see good Indian movies….a lot of bloggers repeatedly tell you not to compare the bollywood films you see with hollywood classics…..thats because only the commercial,masala films make it to U.S…..its not an excuse, but a fact….you ridicule indian film makers and call them pea-brained…how many shyam benegal, satyajit ray or nagesh kokkunoor films have you seen(they are some of the best parallel cinema film makers here)?the films you see are only made to make money….of course, people like SRK & bhansali have tried to bridge the gap between parallel and commercial flicks with films like ‘paheli’ &’sawariya’…..but failed miserably(both of them bombed)….anyway, the point is, if you compare rab ne banadi jodi with casablanca and say bollywood is trash,its not done… their classics with our classics like ‘awara’,or ‘pyaasa’….heck, you haven’t even seen this year’s good films like ‘aamir’, ‘rock on’ or ‘a wednesday’…. Responds:

    1. We’ve seen Saawariya and Paheli in your list. Liked them both.

    We’ll be seeing & reviewing more arthouse movies in the very near future.

    2. But there’s one error in your comment. You imply that most Bollywod movies are commercial flicks and therefore crappy. But most Hollywood movies are commercial flicks too. Yes, some are crappy but a lot are very good.

    3. You write: the films you see are only made to make money

    This again doesn’t make any sense to us.

    Movies are just like any other business. They need to provide a return on their investment to the folks who ponied up money in the first place.

  5. aditya_k   December 29, 2008 at 10:46 am

    sorry, i didn’t make my point clear i guess…..indian audience doesn’t like parallel cinema….these films do not make money…..they are made to be shown in film festivals for critical appreciation only (BTW watch ‘tahaan’,its excellent)… the U.S.,people like such films too….those films make respectable amount of money…..films like sweeney todd would never do well in this country… late, crappiness of our films has increased because of corporate houses producing them….they only want profit and hence stoop down to any extent…

  6. araj   January 4, 2009 at 9:03 am

    You watch so many Hollywood movies that I request you guys to do something i have seen no other reviewing site has ever done and been doing ie., providing either link to the screenplay of the hollywood film you are reviewing or better still, keeping a copy of the same in your site for a free download. I am really a screenplay enthusiast and i read quite a few shooting scripts or final drafts of the famous Hollywood scripts (mostly at or at I must say reading screenplays is very educative since it gives you an opportunity to take a peep into the filmmaker’s mindset without your critical judgment being marrred/clouded/distracted/influenced by the visual narrative as is often the case when you watch a movie on the silver screen(visuals often rouse your aesthetic instincts which can potentially dominate or unhinge your pure critical spirit). That is the reason,I believe, most films, which you thought were great on screen before reading the script look very flat and hackneyed after you read the screenplay in the total absence of the visual static(for ex, Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The movie looked so good on the screen. But its screenplay reeks of so much of moral stereotypy that I couldn’t actally finish reading it and I read few pages of Gran Torino’s screenplay at and my first impression is that this film could be just another anti-racistic homiletic. But then, it’s premature to comment before reading the entire script or without watching the movie). On top of that, for non-american audience, especially the asians like me, it’s almost impossible to follow the american accent and they very much need the script or subtitles to understand the movie (I know most Indians don’t admit this. But I very well know how much of an American movie they can truly understand. And certain American accents are so difficult to follow that you won’t understand the lines even after reading the full script, usually owing to the numerous expressions that are intrinsic to the american culture). Hence, I would say you would be doing a great favour to the guys like me if you can provide full-fledged shooting scripts of, at least, some of the numerous Hollywood movies you review. If you can do that, I wouldn’t even be surprised if it becomes your USP. Responds:

    1. You write: I know most Indians don’t admit this. But I very well know how much of an American movie they can truly understand. And certain American accents are so difficult to follow

    Very true, particularly the southern accent.

    2. Will see what we can do regarding a link. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7.   January 4, 2009 at 11:18 am

    @ StrYngLad74


  8. Skjoldbjærg   January 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I use the SDH quite a bit.. I don’t think it is just the indians that have difficulty in understanding various accents.. Even americans have trouble with accent that is not their own, in my opinion.. And I must say an average indian in the US understands a complicated plot better than an average american.. (am I racially prejudiced?).

    I use the cliff’s notes edition of the screenplays – One movie that I still couldn’t figure out is “Mission Impossible”.. not because of the accents.. but the plot was very complicated.. You guys have inspired me to take a fresh look at it now.. I got a netflix free trial.. may be blu-ray will make things clearer.

    One of the toughest was Brad Pitt’s Irish accent in Snatch.. he also tried (heard that he mangled it) Scottish in another movie.. don’t remember which one..

  9. araj   January 5, 2009 at 1:07 am

    To Skoldbjarg:

    1. An average indian may have more IQ than an average american when it comes to understanding complicated plots(though I strongly doubt it). But the issue here isn’t about who is more capable of comprehending the ‘theme of the film’, rather it’s about who has a good ear for the lines spoken on the screen (though related, these two things are not quite the same). In that respect, I can safely say an average indian would never be able to match an average american (why should he? after all, English is their mother tongue).

    2. What is so complicated about ‘Mission Impossible’???.. I thought it’s a pretty straight movie. You can read its shooting script at Responds:

    You write above: But the issue here isn’t about who is more capable of comprehending the ‘theme of the film’, rather it’s about who has a good ear for the lines spoken on the screen (though related, these two things are not quite the same). In that respect, I can safely say an average indian would never be able to match an average American (why should he? after all, English is their mother tongue).

    Good point.

  10. Skjoldbjærg   January 5, 2009 at 7:56 am

    They would have a better ear, I agree

    I watched MI 12 years ago.. I liked the movie — it has some great action sequences — but I felt that there were unanswered questions(I don’t even remember what questions I had).. probably there were deliberately left unanswered.

    Many reviewers felt that it was convoluted..
    When did you watch the movie?

  11. the gora   January 10, 2009 at 3:39 am

    araj makes a decent point. I know when I was living out in Nebraska, my friends found it near impossible to watch the Sopranos. I was addicted to the show, but people out there had a hard time watching it, not because of the storylines from week to week, but because they kept complaining that they couldn’t understand the New Jersey accent, which I took for granted because I grew up around it. I would watch the show and I’d be laughing my ass off during episodes like the Pine Barrens classic and my friends would keep asking, “What’d he say? What’d he say?”

    Just came out of Gran Torino. Eastwood was Eastwood and overall the movie was better than Slumdog Millionaire, more because of the climax than for any other reason. The barber shop scene was indeed the best scene of the movie. I also thought a classic salvo was when he saves Sue from the black thugs and then turns to the white guy and says something like, “And you… What are you trying to be, super spade? He told you he doesn’t want to be your ‘bro’, and neither would I if I were him, you white trash pussy.”

    But there were some problems. The guy who plays the priest, Christopher Carley, has to be one of the worst actors I’ve ever seen. Everyone in Bollywood sans Abhishit Bachchan compares favorably with him. I was quite torn on what I thought of the actors who played Sue and Thao. I went to see the movie with a friend and we had a long debate straight after the movie trying to decide if they were really crappy actors, or if they were actually kind of decent actors whose dialogues just needed some work. The way they delivered their lines, it just seemed like they were fresh off the boat and reading things off a piece of paper in English for the first time. I might be tempted to think, “Oh well, they are portraying first generation kids in a traditional household in which English isn’t their first language.” But the Hmong thugs led by Spider, even though they spoke like thugs, clearly spoke with an American accent. For example, there’s a discernible difference in the sound of when Spider says, “What’s the matter? Can’t I just hang out with my cuz?” vs. Thao saying to Mr. Kennedy at the construction site, “Man, I’d drive, but the mechanic is making me bend over for $2100 just to get the thing fixed,” or whatever he said. When Thao gets locked in the basement and starts screaming (although I thought he more resembled squealing like a little pig) at Walt, it was almost as bad of an acting job as when Jamal tries to get angry and beat up Salim during their rendezvous in the building under construction. Also when Thao is coming back from his first day at work and runs into the gang, his voice when trying to fight back is not convincing, or just like his voice was throughout the movie. Sue wasn’t as bad I suppose, but she was not perfect either. It just didn’t come off anything close to natural. But then again, the priest was brutal, especially during the confession scene.

    For plot, flow/pacing, and Clint Eastwood, I’d think this movie would win best picture hands down. I’d go back and see it again and again for him and for the story. But the other things just bring the movie back to the field.

    On a happy note, Yua wasn’t just yum yum, she was yummy yummy yummy! 🙂 The movie would have been so much better if she wasn’t limited to two scenes. How come she didn’t get a mention in your review? Responds:

    1. Yua was very nice but we didn’t mention her because (as you note above) in the big picture she had such a limited role – just two or three scenes, and mostly the party at home.

    2. Surprised, you pay so much attention to the poor dialog delivery by Sue & Thao but didn’t highlight the sparkle in the dialogs. Most of the time, they were absolutely hilarious or biting.

    BTW, we didn’t think Sue & Thao were that bad in rendering their lines.

    3. Unfortunately, we were the only South Asians when we watched Gran Torino in Philly.

    A shame that most of our desis won’t consider a non-Bollywood movie, even one as good as Gran Torino.

    4. You write: For plot, flow/pacing, and Clint Eastwood, I’d think this movie would win best picture hands down.

    Yes, Yes and Yes.

  12. the gora   January 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    The dialogues in terms of the writing did sparkle. Particularly the clever repartee between Sue and Walt with things like, “I told you Walt, we don’t eat dogs… just cats.” As I said though, the actual delivery was kind of poor. Sue and Thao kind of reminded me how Eddie Murphy talks in Coming to America, i.e. when he goes into the dad’s office at McDowell’s and tries to strike up conversation about the football game. The difference is that Eddie Murphy intentionally sounded like an idiot in a comedy movie whereas I don’t think Sue and Thao intentionally wanted to sound like idiots with this one being a drama.

    I thought the use of light was exceptional and the camera angles and shots as well. Other subtle things about the movie stood out, such as the very good social commentary about generational gaps and behavior in America such as the cell phone during the funeral, vs. the traditional values still espoused by immigrants. Also lines like when Walt mutters about “Why can’t these gooks get out of the neighborhood?” while the grandma on the opposite porch is muttering “Why does this white guy still live here? Doesn’t he know this is our neighborhood now?” I could go on. As I said, there were some nagging drawbacks, but too many great things about this movie to not go out and see it. Responds:

    Yes, a fine movie.

  13. Skjoldbjærg   January 11, 2009 at 11:31 am

    watched MI yesterday.. it did make sense this time.. too much information to assimilate.. easier at home than in the theater, where I first saw it. I think I had major trouble with the Drake Hotel Bible the first time..

    SI, have you watched Million Dollar Baby? It was good..

    and Gora, were your Sopranos-watching friends Americans or Indians? Responds:

    Not watched Million Dollar Baby yet.

    It’s been in our queue for quite some time (the thing is we tweak our queue often in response to readers’ comments).

  14. sanjaaay12   January 27, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Can you please review Munich, Matchpoint, Usual suspects Responds:

    Will review Matchpoint & Usual Suspects.

    We watched Munich a few years back at one of the Ritz theatres in Philly. Liked the movie although we were not happy about sitting in the first row, near the screen.

    BTW, what did you think of Gran Torino?

  15. sanjaaay12   January 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Going by your review above, I have added to my must-watch list….not easy to get the DVD in India…will try to download from the net. Responds:

    Are we the only ones paying for movie tickets?

  16. chaitu1987   March 3, 2009 at 7:10 am

    what did you mean when you said “Telugu movie (held up as the ne plus ultra of crappy Indian movies)”?

    Now that Gran Torino did not win an Oscar, it is time you keep your promise.

    Telugu movies are mostly crappy. But for your sake, I would refer you to “Sirivennela” by K.Vishwanath or “Rudraveena” by K.Balachander (both good ones).

    Anyway, did you watch Salangai Oli? (it is the dubbed version of Vishwanath’s Saagara Sangamam) Responds:

    1. You write above: Now that Gran Torino did not win an Oscar, it is time you keep your promise.

    OK, we’ll watch either Jai Chiranjeeva or Indra soon to atone for our ‘error.’

    2. Salangai Oli – not yet.

  17. chaitu1987   March 3, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Just kidding yaar. Jai Chiranjeeva and Indra are those movies that Chiranjeevi did well past his prime. I am a fan of his but being a fan of good cinema, I was disappointed that he fell into an image trap after the debacle of Rudraveena. He was the producer of this film and it was the last meaningful cinema that he did (maybe one or two later like Aapadbhaandavudu).

    Rudraveena is a good movie and not surprisingly it was a disaster at the box-office, thanks to the star’s fans who couldn’t digest their hero not doing any stunts or dances. (He was a demi-god in Andhra by that time) Falling prey to commercial considerations, he stopped producing such movies! For Chiranjeevi’s good movies (commercial or not) you must getback to his earlier years. (Movies like Abhilasha, Swayamkrushi, Jagadekaveerudu Atiloka sundari, kondaveetidonga etc)

    Just thought you would like to know things about Telugu cinema for a change. Responds:

    You write above: For Chiranjeevi’s good movies (commercial or not) you must getback to his earlier years. (Movies like Abhilasha, Swayamkrushi, Jagadekaveerudu Atiloka sundari, kondaveetidonga etc)

    Netflix doesn’t have any of your recommendations like Abhilasha et al… They have 13 Chiru movies including Indra and Jai Chiranjeeva. So, we’ll watch one of the two soon.

  18. chaitu1987   March 3, 2009 at 10:27 am

    If you have time, watch Godavari by Shekhar Kammula and give your opinion. Responds:

    Netflix has Godavari. We’ll watch it in the next 2 weeks.

  19. Ænima Of The State   June 23, 2009 at 2:02 am

    Eastwood was great.. too overpowering for the rest of the inexperienced cast, which looked amateurish, I thought..
    but Sue won me over (amateurish, but sprightly) .. probably because she was super-cute.. cuter than yum yum. I thought Dev Patel was better than Bee Vang.

    Some scenes, with the gook and kallu gangsters, played 80 year old Walt’s bravado (and the resultant wimpy reactions from the gangsters) way up to incredulous levels.. but like a Rajini movie, I just accepted it.. because even if he is geriatric, he is still Harry Callahan.

    I predicted the climax correctly (thanks mainly to tamil-style bloody coughs), so wasn’t thrilled or saddened.. Sue’s rape was shocking (glad that I didn’t read your review fully – i feel that you gave too much information in this review.. you usually don’t reveal that much) because until then the movie seemed like a full-length comedy. Responds:

    We were disappointed and surprised that the movie didn’t do that well on the awards front.

  20. kartik001   September 19, 2009 at 7:52 am

    plz review another Clint Eastwood directed movie “Changeling” starring Angelina Jolie. Thanks Responds:

    We’ll see.

    Watched the trailer a few times in the theatre. Found Angelina Jollie to be over-acting.

  21. kartik001   September 26, 2009 at 7:21 am

    I Want my Son…. I want my son!
    did you mean this portion of “Changeling” Trailer to be her over acting? Responds:

    Can’t remember the specifics now.

  22. sganeshkumar1989   October 16, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Clint,well he’s truly the Grand Old Statesman of Cinema!

    What a top-class performance and the tightness,the perfection in his direction even at the age of 78 years!

    Well,truly an inspiring icon for all times!:) Responds:

    We love this Kelavan (old man).

    One of the all-time great movie-men.

    Did Gran Torino release in theatres in India or did you watch it on DVD?

  23. sganeshkumar1989   October 16, 2009 at 9:55 am

    As far as I know it did not have a release here(Hyd.),but the Original DVD version was released and bought it along with another half-a-dozen Clint films,last month! 😀
    /We love this Kelavan (old man)./
    Yeah,Goppa Musalodu! 😀 Responds:

    Goppa Musalodu is manchi actor.

  24. sganeshkumar1989   October 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    /Goppa Musalodu is manchi actor./
    No,I meant he is a Great(Goppa) Old-man(Musalodu) 😀 Responds:

    Memu Telugu inka nerchu kuntunavu (still learning Telugu). 😉

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