Unquestionably one of 2008's most reprehensible films, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino has to count as one of the most embarrassing embodiments of a star persona this side of George Clooney in Batman & Robin (or Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler). I am sad to report that Gran Torino is so awful a film that it calls everything--- yes, everything Clint Eastwood has done as a film maker into question. It forces us to ponder what his presence as a star has meant to us, as well as his own perceptions of his work and career. He's called this a 'swan song' for his acting career, something he said about his own (and far superior) Unforgiven (he should have stuck to his word). I didn't think it was possible for a director to make a film more laden with dramatic cliches, with more ignorant a class portrayal, and a more retrograde view of race than Million Dollar Baby (that film was written by Paul Haggis after all)--- but Clint Eastwood has managed to disgrace his career and star image even further, in the name of contrived, visually bland Americana that attempts to be socially relevant and falls on its hateful, politically correct face.
Gran Torino is yet another lame rumination of The Searchers sexually charged "young, innocent virgin" motif that Eastwood's been regurgitating since his directorial debut, Play Misty for Me. Only instead of focusing that sexual frustration solely on to women, in this film he splits up that fraction of the id into two equally poorly written characters--- one, a smart mouthed teenage girl named Sue and the other her effeminate, "big fat pussy" (Eastwood's words, not mine) brother Thao who is affectionately, or not, referred to as "Toad" by Eastwood's Walt Kowalski throughout the film. In a transparent move for political correctness, Thao is the truly effeminate one, and Eastwood is attempting to 'man him up' over the course of the film--- macho bullshit values that Eastwood flaunts while pretending to deconstruct.
There hasn't been so awkward a documentation of race since Paul Haggis' insipid Crash. Like Haggis, Eastwood actually reinforces racial stereotypes that his film is attempting to counter. Watching the film, I found it difficult to discern whether or not Gran Torino served as a trial or confession on the part of Eastwood; whether this was deliberately fashioned as an elitist, hateful portrayal of white middle class, or whether this is some kind of pseudo-confession on his part. There's no denying it's a personal project --- after all, Eastwood did put himself up on the screen. He's undoubtedly delivering a message of some kind, the question is what.
The film is simply so out of touch with the reality that it purports. It would be hard to imagine characters written in more convoluted a manner and more terribly acted than the ones in this film. It's beyond B-Movie bad because it has genuine psycho-sexual/social pretensions, but it uses every cloyingly obvious dramatic cliche in its arsenal to hammer these themes. What Eastwood has done to his image--- deliberately done, should qualify as self mutilation. He's giving a big middle-finger to the generations of movie goers who have his image as Dirty Harry, The Man with No Name, or the Orangutan-Man (!) frozen in time. He reduces his own persona to a barrage of grunting, cursing, and shooting--- and throws a little politicized cherry on top of his Shit Sundae. In our current environment, this kind of pseudo-nonsense has been mistaken for profundity; Eastwood intellectually and politically placates, and thus voids the real dramatic content of his film in favor of a trite, PC, morality play.
Gran Torino reverses Eastwood's usual motif of murder as the ultimate penance; in this film, self-sacrifice is the answer to all his trite socio-philosophical ruminations. However, instead of delivering a spiritual revelation, Eastwood trivializes the concept of self-sacrifice by reducing it to a PC-ploy for intellectualism. The Searchers may be an influence for Eastwood, but Gran Torino indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of Ford's masterpiece. Whereas The Searchers had a sexually charged psycho-sexuality that was used to expose racism's emotional and intellectual fraudulence, Gran Torino hijacks that central motif, but none of the commentary or tragedy that permeated Ford's film is transposed.
Eastwood has become such a sanctimonious academy-whore that he doesn't even embrace the camp of his story--- his piano score suggests a sorrowful, reflective tone, which highlights how ham-fisted the dramatic content of his story is. Watching it, I wanted to simultaneously laugh and cry at the sad, bumbling, ineffective performance of an icon struggling to make a social commentary of this new-fangled millennium, as well as on his own persona, and failing miserably. It's so bad, it almost counters Eastwood's brilliant career foot-note Unforgiven; where he expanded, evolved, and went deeper with his image. Gran Torino is just a ploy for attention--- the sound of one hand clapping.