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Torino makes for powerful final performance from Hollywood legend

By Spencer Taylor
On February 17, 2009

Since the Oscar nominations have been announced, many critics have been discussing some of the most neglected films for the eighty-first Academy Award ceremony.Leading the pack in many of these debates is Gran Torino, a powerful new film from legendary director and actor Clint Eastwood.
In his first acting role since Million Dollar Baby (2004), Clint Eastwood portrays Walt Kowalski, a man now living alone in a decaying Detroit suburb after the death of his wife. The sole white person left in his neighborhood, Walt exhibits intense bigotry throughout the film, regarding any subject from his foreign neighbors to foreign-made cars with extreme prejudice. Walt, a Korean War vet and retired Ford employee, now spends his days on his front porch with an ice chest full of beer and loyal dog at his side.

Next door to Walt (and throughout the neighborhood) are people of the Hmong ethnic grout of South Asia. Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang) is a young man trapped by fate in a culture where "girls go to college and the boys go to jail." Pressured into joining a gang by his cousin, Thao's initiation goes awry when he is caught attempting to steal Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino.

By attempting to steal the car, Thao is forced to work for Walt not only as an apology, but to restore honor to his family. After this point, Walt begins to form a relationship with Thao and his family that builds amidst the gang's pressure until the wild climax at the end of the film.

Gran Torino is a very strong film that explores much more than a clash of generations and ideals. With that being said, the film does not fall prey to the cliché ebb and flow of so many films that try to explore conflicting cultures and societies.

Although Clint Eastwood put on an Oscar-worthy performance, the film was not without fault. One of the most discussed aspects of the film is the intense load of racial slurs from beginning to end. Eastwood's character is without doubt a prejudiced individual, but some parts of the film were so drenched in derogatory remarks that the film (judging by the audience's reaction) appeared to shift from drama to comedy.

The performance of Thao (Vang) was also questionable, with many high-emotion moments giving way to robotic line delivery not unlike something one would find in a Star Wars prequel.

What makes Gran Torino great, however, is undoubtedly the presence of Clint Eastwood in front of and behind the camera. While watching the film, my initial impressions included a synthesis of Dirty Harry and Unforgiven. While the film does display traces of both films, Clint Eastwood guides Gran Torino in an ultimately different direction. Instead of pulling a "Sylvester Stallone/ Rocky Balboa", Eastwood allows Gran Torino to be its own film.

Clint Eastwood deserved a Best Actor nomination for, at the very least, making a good film great.

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