I'm not sure I laughed harder while watching a film this past year (yes, I'm talking Oscar years, not calendar years) than I did while enjoying Gran Torino. I loved Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express, but I may have actually laughed more at Gran Torino. And I was not laughing at the film--I think--I was laughing with it. This may have been the most unexpected movie chocked full of hilarity that I could possibly have imagined.
Maybe it is my own curmudgeonly person or a deep-seeded desire to cross over the lines of political correctness at every turn, but I thought the tale of Walter Kowalski--a recently widower-ed veteran of the Korean War and retired Ford plant worker who simply goes through life being, well, hilariously insensitive to people of all backgrounds--was a laugh riot. And it wasn't only me. The entire theater was laughing their asses off. And yes, Clint Eastwood directed it.
Now exclaiming from a mountaintop that this film's strength is in its comedy may seem reductive, and I would hate to come across as dismissive of the other merits of the film. It does hit its dramatic marks. It is shot like an Eastwood film. It does have its typical Eastwood-directed-film ending.
The difference here is that the film actually works. His other films taking place in contemporary settings of late have not worked for me. I hated Mystic River. The shot that killed that film for me was the overhead crane shot of Sean Penn in the animal pit over his daughter's body. The sudden Linney Lady-MacBeth-turn in the coda was absolutely infuriating to me. There were so many tonal issues I had with Mystic River that I grew angry with its shortcomings. Million Dollar Baby was a ridiculous feel-good euthanasia movie that just didn't work well enough to get me to like it.
I loved Gran Torino, though, and I am not easily won over by directors who have wasted my time in the past. To say too much would be to give away much of a fairly simple plot. But a simple plot is not necessarily a bad thing, and this film is a late-life discovery of another world and about finding family in the most unlikely of places--and it is hilarious. Shockingly.