Both of us struck down by some debilitating bug, we watched Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino on FilmFlex. It’s an enjoyable film in which Eastwood has fun directing himself in a kind of parody of the genres with which he has been associated. This story of Walt Kowalski, the grumpy, tough-minded widowerand Korean war vet, is a western in modern urban garb and Eastwood reprises his Dirty Harry/Man With No Name roles as the loner who stands up for what he believes is right. But with differences: this time he isn’t invincible. In fact he attends the final showdown without his gun. And it’s the police department that rounds up the baddies, not the lone individual.
Kowalski can’t get along with either his familyor his neighbors; his prize possession is a 1972 Gran Torino he keeps in mint condition. After his neighbour Thao, a young Hmong teenager under pressure from his gang member cousin, tries to steal his Gran Torino, a series of events leads Kowalski to taking the boy under his wing. When Thao’s sister Sue is threatened by some black bullies, he is drawn reluctantly into the life of the family, Kowalski is soon taking steps to protect them from gang reprisals.
There’s some good dialogue along the way – at times it felt almost like a Ken Loach film was trying to get out in the sense of the close observation of the ways of different groups pushed up against each other.
Gran Torino is about two things, I believe. It’s about the belated flowering of a man’s better nature. And it’s about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century. This doesn’t involve some kind of grand transformation. It involves starting to see the ‘gooks’ next door as people you love. And it helps if you live in the kind of neighbourhood where they are next door.
Slant magazine said:
If Gran Torino‘s climactic showdown is the erstwhile Dirty Harry’s last as a leading man, conducted with a strategy at the polar opposite from the Man with No Name’s, it’s a final lament that the way of the gun is a guarantor of self-destructive pain.
Eastwood’s performance as Walt is a treat. No one could have animated the role like this and no one else could conceivably have got away with the racist tirades, reactionary arias and bigoted broadsides. He gets away with it because we know full well that he is eventually going to reveal that great big bruised and hurting heart-of-gold hidden under the faded grey T-shirt. Eastwood, at the age of 78, can carry off the essentially comic combination of elderly mannerisms and cowboy menace. He has his belt hitched up high like an old geezer and his short-sleeved shirt reveals his wrinkly elbows, and his long senior-citizen forearms. Yet there is something potent about his narrow-eyed gaze of righteous loathing, a facial tic perhaps learned originally by leaning into a telescopic gunsight; it’s a crinkling of the eye muscles that also brings the corners of his mouth out into a silent snarl. When relaxed, and even smiling, his face resembles the one shown on his creased wedding photo: the one he had as a boy.
There is a bravura moment when Walt rolls past in his pickup, just as black guys are threatening Thao’s smart, feisty cousin Sue (Ahney Her), while she is out walking with a local white boy who ingratiatingly, and catastrophically, tries to affect gangsta style to placate them. The cranky old grandpa faces them down and even pulls a gun, then subtly establishes his psychological mastery of the situation by making it clear he shares the blacks’ contempt for Sue’s creepy pseudo-urban date: “They’re not your ‘bro’, and I don’t blame them!”