reviewed by Marc Glassman
Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood, director and co-producer. Nick Schenck, script. Starring: Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Bee Vang (Thao Vang Lor), Ahney Her (Sue Vang Lor), Christopher Carley (Father Janovich), Brooke Chia Thao (Thao and Sue’s mother), Chee Thao (their grandmother), Doua Moua (Spider)
It’s impossible to imagine Gran Torino being made without the presence of Clint Eastwood in the leading role of Walt Kowalski, a tough, prejudiced all-American blue-collar worker who comes to grips with massive changes in the Detroit neighbourhood he’s dwelled in for most of his life. A true auteur, Eastwood directed and co-produced the film, which has a soundtrack composed by his older son, Kyle, and a small acting role for his younger son, Scott. At the age of 78, the leathery, lithe elder Eastwood still exudes the hard-nosed action-hero personality that first made him a star in the ‘60s and ‘70s as the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns and as Dirty Harry, back near home in San Francisco.
Though he’s not from the Midwest, one can easily imagine Eastwood growing up in America’s heartland. His character here, a retired auto worker and Korean War veteran, would likely have been a big fan of Dirty Harry. The film trades on the Eastwood persona as the angriest septuagenarian in the land, ready to wreak havoc against society’s “scum.” Determined to be outrageous, Eastwood’s Kowalski exudes menace while denouncing minorities with malevolent racial epithets.
Even as we see him letting off steam with a ferocity that evokes Yosemite Sam — you can almost see steam come out of his ears — it’s clear that this is one dude who will pull up his socks and do right by society. The scenario offers him that chance when, as Kowalski, Eastwood has to come to the defense of Thao and Sue Vang Lor, the teenaged Hmong brother and sister who are his next door neighbours. Soon enough, he finds himself going to parties with his Asian neighbours and beginning to realize that “they’re alright.”
So when a tough Hmong gang takes on his new friends, who can be counted on to take them out? “Well, who do you think, punk?” In what may be Eastwood’s last starring job, he offers us an over-the-top, nearly comic take on his old persona. Gran Torino isn’t great cinema but it’s fascinating when considering Eastwood’s career — and a lot of American critics love it. If Clint Eastwood intrigues you, this is a must-see; if not, well, it should be out on DVD by June.