…directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Bee Vang and Sue Lor. Gran Torino is an effective movie about loss, redemption, and family. It works because of the mighty presence of Clint and a great supporting cast; in the hands of lesser talent, the story would be in danger of descending into Lifetime Network territory.
But Clint did make this movie, rumored to be his final starring role, and you really can’t imagine anyone else who could play a guy like Walt Kowalski. Walt is a Korean War Vet, a career Ford factory worker, and stubborn-ass lapsed Catholic. His wife has just died and his sons and their families are estranged from him. To make matters worse, the old neighborhood ain’t what it used to be. Most of Walt’s neighbors are Asian immigrants — Bho people from Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, we learn — who don’t seem to know or care much about basic home maintenance and keeping the lawn trimmed.
One of the neighbors, an introverted teen boy called Thao, runs afoul of his gang banger peers. They want to initiate him into their gang, and to do so he’s supposed to steal Walt’s mint Gran Torino. Thao fails of course, and thus begins the unlikely friendship between them.
The real strength of the movie is how Clint’s character takes to Thao and attempts to teach him how to interact in a manly fashion, how to fix stuff, and how to take some responsibility. Good lessons for young men, all. It doesn’t come off as hokey, because it seems genuine (and because Eastwood the Director never tarries too long on a scene or moment). A man like Walt, with his wife recently gone, would naturally be lonely and more receptive to transition.
Clint’s performance has, of course, received rave reviews. All the subtle scowls and growls, and the more obvious moments like pointing a rifle at the gang-bangers or slowly exiting his truck with a pipe wrench tucked into his belt are vintage Eastwood. You can also sense a sadness in his character, a need for redemption for past sins, and also nervousness and relief when he finally begins to make up with and accept his neighbors.
Much like Unforgiven served as a grand coda to Clint’s many Westerns, Gran Torino is a fine last chapter for some of his other memorable roles (Dirty Harry comes to mind). And like Unforgiven, this film draws from the man’s presence and audience expectations built from those previous performances. Also, it has this line: “Get off my lawn!” (Could anyone else pull that one off?) So if you are a fan of Clint or just enjoy a good story on the big screen, you shouldn’t miss Gran Torino.