GRAN TORINO – review

Published January 25, 2009

Clint Eastwood. Are there two words in the Hollywood lexicon that inspire more awe and respect? The only other two I can think of are living and legend — both of which are apt for this cinematic icon. Fifty plus years as an actor, nearly forty years as a director, five Oscars (two for directing, two for producing, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, and The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award), he scores his own films, and, as he proves with his most recent effort, Gran Torino, can still, at age 78, totally kick ass!
Gran Torino
Clint stars as Walt Kowalski, a retired automotive worker living in the same Detroit suburb that he and his recently-deceased wife have lived in for decades. Times are changing though, and the neighborhood has become much more racially diverse of late — especially with Hmong immigrants. Walt, a veteran of the Korean war, is as racist as he is cantankerous. The first hour of this film has Clint growling, snarling, and sneering (nobody does this better) at everything that either rubs him wrong or just plain pisses him off. There is much that does that. His two sons only come around if they want something, his grandkids are lazy, spoiled and ungrateful, and the neighbors … well … if there is a racial epithet that Walt doesn’t spit in this movie, I don’t know what it is. If Walt has a prize possession, it is his mint-condish 1972 Gran Torino which he helped build while still working for Ford.
Clint Eastwood
Two teenagers live next door to Walt, Thao (Bee Vang), and Sue Vang Lor (Ahney Her), under the watch of their mother and grandmother. Thao, a good-but-shy kid is approached by his cousins gang, who, as an initiation, want Thao to steal Walt’s Gran Torino. When he is caught in the act by Walt, and the boy’s family insist he make restitution, Walt is forced into a relationship that he doesn’t want.

I’m not going to spoil any more of this movie — what I just described can be gleaned from the trailer anyway — I will let those of you who have not seen it experience it as I did. While I expected a moral drama about a racist old man who comes to learn tolerance, what I got was something far more profound. I was rewarded in ways I did not expect. And I was reminded again why Clint is the legend that he is — this is one damn fine film.
Clint Eastwood
Other critics have stated that Gran Torino is to Dirty Harry what Unforgiven was to every other western he ever made. I don’t know if I would go that far, but the ghosts of Clint’s previous roles do hang over this film in ways that lend much gravitas to the proceedings. This very well could be a retired Harry Callahan, living in bitter exile — never more so than when he levels a shotgun at some gang members on his property and growls, “Get off my lawn!” The story does have a resonance much like Unforgiven, but by the time the finale rolls around (which I did NOT see coming), I realized it was almost the polar opposite of Clint’s first Oscar winner. And all the more powerful for it. That Walt ends up finding his humanity in this story is a given — it’s what he ultimately does about it that makes this film so memorable. While such tales can often be overcooked or corny, Clint handles this, both as actor and director, with such underplayed finesse, I was in awe by the time the credits rolled. I got infinitely more than I expected.

Many have speculated that this role may be Clint’s swan song as an actor — if this proves so, I cannot imagine a farewell more apropos. Highly recommended.