Clint Eastwood has always been a staple in cinema since "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."For however long it has been, Eastwood has remained a respected actor, picking high profile and high brow films to star in or direct.
Unfortunately for me, I was one of the few people who did not enjoy "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "Flags of our Fathers" as much as other people did.
Not to say they were bad movies, but they were almost too effective in making me, the viewer, feel the discomforts and tragedies of war.
I preferred "Iwo Jima" over "Fathers," but neither of them stood chance against "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River."
So I was a little apprehensive when it came to paying $8.50 to go see Eastwood's new "Gran Torino."
I had already missed my chance to go see "Changeling" written by one of my favorite writers J. Michael Straczynski.
That being said, the trailer for "Torino" looked a lot more intriguing than any solemn story Eastwood had released in the last nine years (dis-counting Mystic River").
Last Sunday I actually went to see the movie, and I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in the last six months.
Whether or not this is his swan-song, Eastwood delivers his lines better than anyone, young or old, with such ferocity, that I felt intimidated seeing him that on screen. He's good. The rest of the film is sprinkled with trace amounts of actual actors and actresses, Eastwood choosing instead to cast authentic Hmong people from areas in Michigan, Minnesota and California.
The novice Hmong make the characters somewhat odd to watch, as if their old school traditions make them all the more unfamiliar to Eastwood's retired Korean War survivor.
At the same time, playing brother and sister, the two that shine the most among the asian cast members are Bee Vang and Ahney Her.
Together, they represent the most traditional Hmong family that moves in next door to Eastwood's grizzled and slightly racist Walt Kowalski.
What follows can only be described as a near comedy, with Walt calling his neighbors every offensive name he can think of to get them to leave him alone in the first half of the movie.
It soon becomes apparent that Walt isn't a racist, but merely wants to be left alone, and thinks he can accomplish that by insulting his two sons' families, his neighbors and his persistent priest.
What follows is a deep story of bonding between two generations and the knowing what matters most.
On set, Eastwood encouraged the Hmong cast to adlib as much as possible onscreen and it shows how thorough Eastwood is as a director.
Whether or not he channels his glory days as Dirty Harry or The Man With No Name is unsure, but in some ways the character remains the same. He is a man that knows what is right, cherishes what is good and attracts the right kind of people.
As for the rest of the story, which I will not explicitly detail here, the progression of danger is always underlying as Walt and Bee Vang's Thao Lor develop their friendship. It keeps the audience uneasy and commits to a better climax.
It's really hard to say which I like more, Eastwood's directing or acting in "Torino," but to be optimistic, I have to say it was the better movie I saw in December, beating out "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by a long shot and was a superior film than "Milk" in the way the story was treated.
At age 79, it's nice to see Eastwood retire from acting, if this actually is his last acting role, in such a heartfelt and ode to the kind of tough hero character Eastwood was known to play.
Matthew Reichl likes to think he knows film. It's hard to say whether he does or doesn't. Make suggestions through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.