Despite the themes and the Biblical ending, I'm going out on a limb and saying that this film is a comedy. Produced, directed, and starring Clint Eastwood, a man not known for his sense of humor, this movie garners more laughs than any film I've seen him do.
Ironically, Eastwood who plays Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski says, after another character calls him funny, "I've been called many things. Funny isn't one of them." In the theater, it got a big laugh, and the reason it did was because it's true. Yet, every other minute, Eastwood is making us laugh.
It starts immediately as the film opens. Kowalski and his adult children attend the funeral of Kowalski's wife. A funeral is hardly a place that one would think Eastwood would mine for comedy. Let alone the following wake scene.
Eastwood does so, however, and he does so by establishing himself as this character, a character that redefines the definition of curmudgeon. Kowalski is mean to and annoyed by everyone. He thinks they're all either disrespectful or ignorant, or sometimes both.
He has a very tough and 1950s way about him. Some might even classify him as being racist. Actually, that classification would be 100-percent correct. Kowalski is a racist. He particularly is racist against Asian people.
This poses a problem because the question becomes how do you make a hero out of an old racist. Kowalski does become an unlikely hero. Not only that, he becomes a hero to those whom he would be the most unlikely.
Kowalski, according to some critics, is like a version of Dirty Harry while, in my mind, being next of kin to Archie Bunker but without any network TV restraints. Kowalski has an uninhibited, foul mouth and a razor-sharp tongue that will cut anyone down to size.
His brutal honesty is exactly that, brutal. Instead of being highly offensive, which his bigoted one-liners certainly are, the audience can't help but laugh. Eastwood's gruff voice and grimace comes with a delivery here by the 78-year-old actor that somehow makes it comical. It's as if Eastwood is spoofing himself, but lets us in on the joke.
Yes, his bigoted one-liners are hilarious but Eastwood is so good that he doesn't even have to speak. His growl's become an instant laugh line.
The only thing that isn't funny and that possibly doesn't work all that well is Eastwood's attempt to make this an Asian Boyz N the Hood (1991). Not that it perhaps wasn't written or directed well, it's just the young actors portraying this story don't quite hit the ball.
Kowalski is the lone white homeowner in a neighborhood that has been overrun with various ethnicities, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, including one particular Asian group known as the Mong. Kowalski's next door neighbors, in fact, are Mong people. Kowalski is thrust into the middle of a gang war between a group of Mong teens and that of Mexican teens.
Kowalski is involved because Thao, his neighbor's teenage son, is forced to steal Kowalski's 1972 Ford Gran Torino vintage sports car. Thao is a sweet, virginal kid who doesn't want to be in a gang. Bee Vang, who plays Thao is a 16-year-old new actor with potential, but he doesn't quite sell it as a young Cuba Gooding, Jr. once did. However, the barbershop talk scene that Eastwood has with him is the most hilarious and most brilliant of the entire movie.
Again, Eastwood employs the idea of a Catholic priest offering him counsel. Unlike in Million Dollar Baby (2004), Eastwood's character doesn't go to him, the persistent padre comes to Eastwood. There's a visual Christ reference made at the end that might have been a little over the top, but, for bringing this very interesting character to the screen, I have to give Eastwood kudos.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated R for language and violence
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.