I haven’t seen Gran Torino yet.

Normally, I would rush out to see a Clint Eastwood movie. But I’ve been insanely busy the last several weeks, and I’ve had to choose my movies very, very carefully, so I’d be sure to pick a winner. So I started paying attention to what I read.

I must say, I was alarmed when film critic Mike D’Angelo posted this on Twitter:

Never have I seen a film as blatantly stupid as GRAN TORINO taken so seriously by so many non-idiots.

I wasn’t sure whether I should pay attention to a comment like that.

But then, one of my favorite film critics, Michael Sicinski, wrote:

Eastwood’s gentle pacing always lends projects such as these a dignity they barely deserve, and Gran Torino is the worst offender in quite a long time. The script is preposterous. Beyond that, I have nothing to say about this film.

Then, other critics whose perspectives I respect began lining up with reviews or comments that echoed these sentiments. And I must say, Gran Torino was suddenly not quite so high on my must-see list.

Here are a few of those voices:

Victor Morton:

I was impressed — in a sense. I thoroughly enjoyed myself laughing at one of the worst screenplays I’ve ever seen and one of the worst performances by a professional actor … rrrrrrr … I’ve ever seen.

Ron Reed:

If I were running a screenwriting program, and GRAN TORINO was submitted by someone applying for admission, I’d be very excited. “It’s a mess, but I love what the guy’s going for. Tons of potential.” If this script was submitted by someone as their graduating project, I’d flunk them.

I’m fascinated by the same themes that fascinate this guy (and Clint Eastwood) – violence and non-violence, revenge and forgiveness, justice, sacrifice. In fact, with respect to the last on the list, I’d be very surprised if the screenwriter isn’t a Christian.

But the script is so flawed, so amateur in execution, I truly can’t believe it got made without extensive rewrites. Honestly, the whole story it tells is just fine. But the telling of that story has every beginner weakness there is.

Ken Morefield:

Gran Torino is a bad film, yes, but at least it has the decency to be an exquisitely bad film of the type you can enjoy if you can get your head in the right place, see it with a few buddies, and one-up one another in deriding plot holes and predicting developments. (Give your self one point if you correctly predicted Clint would say confession in the second half of the film, two if you correctly predicted it would be in the penultimate scene, and three if at the appropriate time you turned to the person you were sitting next to and said, “This would be a really good place for a montage.”)

I said to my friend Peter (a.k.a. Smokey Burner) after the film–and it’s imperative that you understand that I am absolutely, positively in earnest–that as bad as the film was, it would have been perfect with two small changes:

a) The addition of a Predator.
b) If the dog could talk (or at the minimum do a voice-over narration).

Before I explain, let me just say that I think it is Eastwood’s presence that ultimately causes the film to implode. This is a shame, really, because if the film had starred Steven Seagal, Mark Wahlberg, or Vin Diesel, it could have gone straight to video as a Death Wish reboot without having to add all the Jesus imagery the only point of which seems to be to make you wonder if Gus Van Sant somehow decided to do a shot by shot remake of Unforgiven only to have a sly intern slip in pages of The Karate Kid to see if he would notice:

“What’s it like to kill a man?”
“It’s horrible; you take everything he ever has or will have. Now show me wax the car…”

Christian Hamaker:

This religious dialogue in the film is somewhat stimulating, but ultimately disappointing. … Eastwood seems to be more interested in posing—in one case, quite literally—as a Christ figure in Gran Torino, presenting themes of regret and redemption in large letters. However, the religious connections are forced and heavy-handed, unlike the far superior Changeling, where the Christian themes of justice and hope, although outwardly embodied by a man of the cloth, were delivered with more grace and power.

Weaker still is the story of Thao, Kowalski’s harassed neighbor. The young man broods effectively, but every time he opens his mouth, another stilted line ushers forth. Vang simply isn’t a very good actor, and his performance hurts the film.

Nevertheless, Gran Torino works fairly well as mainstream entertainment. It gives audiences a loveable rascal in Eastwood’s character, and allows a flawed, racist man to be the instrument of change in the life of a young man in need of direction. It also shows the lengths to which a man might go for his friends—a theme that, again, is more artfully presented in Changeling, but which is not without power here.

Readers are cautioned that the racial epithets and language in Gran Torino are distasteful, and that the movie, even with its explicit religious angle, feels warmed over. There’s not much beyond Eastwood’s enjoyable performance to recommend the film, but watching the actor give one more memorable performance may be enough for Eastwood’s fans.

But not all of my favorite critics disliked it.

Brett McCracken:

Gran Torino is surprisingly earnest—a film that is funny and angry and sad for all the right reasons, and remarkably well timed. As 2008 comes to close—and with it many things—Gran Torino captures the zeitgeist as eloquently as anything possibly could.

Andrew Sarris:

Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino… caps his career as both a director and an actor with his portrayal of a heroically redeemed bigot of such humanity and luminosity as to exhaust my supply of superlatives.

Stephanie Zacharek:

[U]ntil Gran Torino starts rumbling headlong toward its tone-deaf, self-serious ending… it’s often enjoyable, satisfying and funny.

David Edelstein:

The movie is ludicrous, but Eastwood’s consistency is poignant. He has an agenda and sticks to it.

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