Gran Torino (2008): United States – directed by Clint Eastwood
Rated R by the MPAA – contains swearing, grumpiness, racism, and a little violence
Gran Torino is basically Clint at his growliest best, being racist and old school to the max, and it’s great fun. The film also has a bit of a message to it, which isn’t all that subtle by any means. But no problem.
We start at the funeral of Clint’s wife. Clint plays Walt Kowalksy, a Korean War vet living with some bad things he may have done. He’s old and grumpy, living in an old neighborhood in Michigan. He’s about the only white person there these days. Some Vietnamese folks live next door, and Hmong and Latino gangs roam the area with some black gangs as well. When the boy next door gets in trouble trying to steal Walt’s Gran Torino as gang initiation, Walt gets sucked into the family and the lifestyle. Though hesitant at first, he eventually finds he has more in common with them than with his own spoiled children and grandchildren.
The change is gradual, though, which adds a great deal to the film’s integrity. The local priest, after promising Walt’s wife he’d try to get him to go to confession, also pops up, trying to ease some of Walt’s bitterness and anger.
But the bitterness and anger is what makes the film so great. Clint growls constantly, scowling at everyone that moves. He’s incredibly racist, throwing racial slurs at his Hmong neighbors, even when speaking to their faces after they get to know each other a little. His conversations with his few remaining friends are also quite politically incorrect, and a scene when he teaches the Hmong boy next door how to speak like a white person (read: grumpy old white angry guy) is absolutely hilarious.
The movie had me laughing constantly, even when others in the theater weren’t. But the film also tugs at the heartstrings, as we come to care for these characters and Walt. As they come face to face with some of the rougher aspects of life and death, we’re rooting for them and crying with them. The message is also quite solid, if a bit heavy-handed. Similarly, some of the moments involving the priest work, while others are a little obvious.
I would imagine several of you have already seen it, but those who haven’t should definitely check it out. It may be Clint’s last acting role, but it’s him at his ornery, angry, bitter best, growling and scowling through a pretty great movie.