GRAN TORINO (2008)
Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, Brian Howe, John Carroll Lynch, William Hill, Chee Thao and Doua Moua.
Screenplay by Nick Schenk.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Distributed by Warner Bros. 116 minutes. Rated R.
Word is the Gran Torino may be screen legend’s final ride as an actor – in recent years, the 78-year-old screen icon has been spending much more time behind the cameras than in front. Well, if this is Clint’s swan song, then he has found a pretty perfect way to bring down the curtain (then again, people said the same about Unforgiven sixteen years ago). However, director Clint has once again found the dark soul of his earlier iconic character – the yin and yang of the man with no name.
Walt Kowalski is an elderly man who lives in a Detroit neighborhood which has been falling apart around him for years. As Gran Torino starts his wife has just died, in fact we first see Walt in the funeral home. However, instead of mourning, the obvious emotion he is feeling is anger. He’s pissed that his grandkids are underdressed in football jerseys and mini-skirts. He’s pissed that his son is driving a foreign car. (Walt made a living building Fords.) Mostly, he’s pissed at the young, fresh-faced, sincere priest who is peddling what Walt considers platitudes – trying to make his wife’s death seem to be a reason for joy as well as sadness.
Now that he has lost his wife, Walt only loves two things, his dog Daisy and his cherry 1972 Gran Torino – a muscle car that he has cared for fanatically since the day he helped to create it on the Ford assembly line. He doesn’t seem to drive it really, beyond short trips up and down his driveway. Regular driving he leaves to his old white pickup truck. However, mostly Walt spends his days puttering around the house and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon on his porch while he watches everything which goes on in the neighborhood.
Walt’s new neighbors are a multi-generational Hmong (Vietnamese) family. The oldest son is Thao (Bee Vang), a smart, shy, bookish sort who is being pressured to join a local gang. When the gang gives the boy an initiation task to steal the Gran Torino, the two households’ fates are forever entwined.
Walt catches the boy trying to steal the car and turns a rifle on the kid, however the boy gets away. When the gang members return to make Thao pay for failing initiation, the old man next door runs them off with the rifle and a cold-blooded “Get off of my lawn” – a seemingly ineffectual term that Eastwood is able to turn into a threat every bit as bone-chilling as “Go ahead. Make my day.”
Because Walt saved Thao (and later his sister Sue), the Asian family, which places a premium on honor makes Thao work for Walt to repay the debt – though Walt is not so thrilled with the arrangement, he takes it upon himself to toughen the kid up and make him a man. In the meantime, he grows to really like and respect sister Sue (Abney Her), who is sure of herself, funny and willing to give it back to the old guy as well as she gets.
However, though Walt gains a grudging friendship and respect for his neighbors, it is a nice touch that he does not really treat them all that much better. Walt is a crotchety old coot, nothing is going to change that. However, if his speech may be casually racist and insulting, you eventually realize that it all because of the world he came of age in rather than an indictment the man. He may be hard-boiled, but he does have a strong sense of justice and right or wrong.
Walt also comes to gain a bit of a meeting of the minds with the young priest (Christopher Carley) – Walt teaches the preacher about being around death and the priest helps to get Walt to appreciate life as well.
Towards the end, Gran Torino downshifts a little – becoming a somewhat standard urban adventure drama, though it is strongly colored by Eastwood’s late-career determination to not glamorize violence as he did earlier in his career. However it is lifted by particularly vivid characters and some extremely strong acting. None of that fine work is better than that of the aging icon in the driver’s seat.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 1, 2009.