Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort—and last foray into acting, so he says—is one of those movies that can be called compelling without being called good. In Gran Torino, Eastwood plays Walt “don’t call me Wally” Kowalski, an aging, curmudgeonly retired auto worker/Korean War vet who hates the Hmong immigrants to his Detroit neighborhood, but loathes his own spawn even more. Recently widowed, he spends his afternoons (enviably, some might say) drinking PBR from a handy ice chest on his front porch watching the neighborhood go to hell. When he steps in to protect the directionless neighbor boy Thao (played with questionable skill by amateur actor Bee Vang) during a gang initiation gone wrong, he suddenly becomes a Hmong hero and can’t avoid getting involved in the workings of their lives. With a good pace to the drama, Gran Torino is pretty engaging, but it suffers from conspicuously poor acting and some major writing flaws—things that have you scratching your head as to whether some of the cringe-worthy moments were intentional and, if so, for what purpose? It’s so true, isn’t it?—that the hardest movies to watch are the decent ones that could have been great.
EXTRAS: Manning the Wheel, a documentary about the meaning of manhood as reflected in American car culture; plus a visit to an annual car event in Detroit.