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Matt likes GRAN TORINO but is a little disappointed it wasn't DIRTY HARRY 6

In DIRTY HARRY, you always stood by Clint Eastwood's Insp. Harry Callahan, even when he did things that were morally suspect or damn right wrong. You knew that by the people he put away, the streets would be cleaner. He was morally doing the right thing if not always being morally correct about the way he did it. He was the archetypal George Bush figure of today, you dislodge those that are a big threat to society knowing the casualties you make are worth it for the future good. I'm not saying I agree with that point of view but with having such strong convictions you could at least sympathise with the Callahan figure. And sympathise we must have. The character was popular enough to go through four further sequels spanning 17 years of cinema. With GRAN TORINO, I kind of wish it had been another one. In Clint Eastwood's first on screen role since his Oscar nominated turn in MILLION DOLLAR BABY four years ago, the hastily produced GRAN TORINO features the grizzled and gruff veteran as Walt Kowalski, a Callahan-esque ex Korean war vet who also believes he is doing the morally correct thing but the key difference here is this character doesn't always look like he is doing it for the right reasons. He's a passive racist but has short fuse that can turn him into an aggressive one. If you get in his way, he will tell you to your face what he thinks and because he's American, he thinks he is superior to every other race around him. He's a modern day version of John Wayne from THE SEARCHERS but without the motivation of finding his kidnapped niece by the Comanches. In fact the big problem of the movie is that he has no motivation for anything. He hates everyone, even his own two successful sons he can't communicate with, he even resents them for their job in sales dealing with Japanese automobiles (he worked his whole life at Ford producing AMERICAN cars). First time writer Nick Schenk's script tries to excuse Kowalski's attitude by the horrors he saw in Korea but he never delves into them deep enough for them to work. In UNFORGIVEN, you got the impression that Eastwood was just continuing the legacy of his Dollars Trilogy and the pain that his character was suffering was because of all the men he killed when he was a youthful gunslinger. It worked there but here they make it a point to say it was what he saw in Korea that made him this way, I can't help but feel that if it was Callahan maybe regretting some of the action's he did whilst he was a cop and worried about the frightening new world we live in today, it might have been more effective. By giving Kowalski very few backstories and very few likeable character traits, we are almost in need of the previous time we have spent with character in previous movies for us to get behind him. That's why Eastwood has missed a trick by not making it Callahan. Having just buried his wife, Eastwood plays Kowalski as a world weary guy who sees disrespect all around him. An uncomfortable scene opens the film with his wife's funeral where the younger nephews and nieces who look irritated and bored by the whole occasion, make fun of the ceremony and play with their phones, more worried about getting home and returning to normality than showing respect to their late grandmother. One of them even wears a low cut dress showing her belly button piercing. We almost growl before Eastwood does. It's hard to imagine Kowalski taking on the Indians at Monument Valley to save any of these cretins. Later, Kowalski sits on his porch downing can after can of beer observing the neighborhood he has lived in his whole life that's now become a populace for Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia, a cultural divide Kowalski has no interest in breaking. Especially when the neighbourhood gangs are quick to get out their guns to end an argument. If he was less proud, you might believe he would have gotten himself out of dodge. His prized possession is his self built 1972 Ford automobile, his precious and beautiful vintage Gran Torino. One night, he catches his neighbour Thao trying to steal his car as part of a gang initiation that the confused Thao doesn't necessarily want to be part of. Cue the famous Eastwood iconography. The long rifle straight into those wide eyes of the kid as DIRTY HARRY, THE MAN WITH NO NAME... the man who in UNFORGIVEN rose from the depths of his own self loathing to take down a bastard Sheriff, is one click above from blowing the kid's brains out. Thao's sister Sue delivers his brother's punishment, he must spend some time in the unpaid employment of Kowalski to repay for what he did and from their time together they both learn something from each other's attitudes and cultural differences. Kowalski begins to be "less" racist but not entirely over his first instinct to call Asians such slurs as "Fisheads" but he's getting there. And Thao learns the value of a good day's work and is on the road to learning to become a man, taking Kowalski's advice to ask the girl out on a date who he was previously to shy to approach. All seems well with the world until the gang that Thao has now snubbed take a disliking to him getting a job and working for the white man and a gang war has begun, with Kowalski reluctantly getting involved to help his neighbours. In the end, I did enjoy GRAN TORINO and I love how these veterans can show us sometimes just how easy it is to make a good movie. This was all done in record time, just over half a year from when we first heard about it to it's theatrical release, even catching up to THE CHANGELING, Eastwood's previous shot movies which is still in theatres. I love this attitude some directors have, Stephen Soderbergh for years has been the archetype for this, that they just take out their camera and shoot a story without having to worry about much of the baggage that follows most Hollywood productions. For my money, this has got to be the first time a director has had back to back competing films (two years ago he was in the same situation with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS). GRAN TORINO is not a great movie. To class this as Best Picture worthy would just go to show how the 2008 line-up of movies isn't quite as spectacular as last year's. The same I would say can be said for FROST/NIXON which I saw this week, a movie I really liked but for GRAN TORINO and FROST/NIXON to be Best Picture worthy and stand alongside WALL*E, MILK or THE DARK KNIGHT is just not comparable to me (I've yet to see many of the other Academy Award buzz movies such as SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE or REVOLUTIONARY ROAD). Those three are so much more at the top of their craft that I think they make GRAN TORINO look average and hey, maybe it is just average. But if you like Clint Eastwood, this will easily be worth your time to see him back on screen again. It's a small movie, the kind of end of career movie John Wayne filmed with TRUE GRIT and THE SHOOTIST and although the acting of virtually everyone but Eastwood is rather sub-par (including the vital role of Thao), it's entertaining enough. GRAN TORINO is playing in the U.S. on limited release now and is released in the U.K. on February 20th 2009.

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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.