What it's about:
Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a bitter, retired factory worker and war veteran who despises his soft middle-class sons, his immigrant neighbours, and the local pastor. After his wife dies, he spends his days cleaning his beloved 1972 Ford Gran Torino, or sitting on his porch with his dog, drinking beer and glaring at the world. A run-in with young Thao (Bee Vang), a fatherless teen who lives next door, results in Walt supervising the boy’s chores, and a bond develops between the two. When Thao becomes pressured to join a neigbourhood gang, violence ensues, and Walt tries to fix the situation the only way he knows how.
What we thought of it:
You have to hand it to Clint Eastwood – at the ripe old age of 78 he is still totally dedicated to the art of film making, and shows no sign of slowing down, having just directed the creepy drama Changeling, and now directing and starring in Gran Torino. If you are wondering whether the Daddy is still the Daddy, you can rest assured that even though he looks like your pissed off grandpa, he still has the biggest balls on the block. All jokes aside, this is a damn fine film that demonstrates how much of a difference experience and expertise can make.
On the surface Gran Torino appears rather cheesy, but it stands far above the average, due to its sharp script and top class acting. Clint Eastwood has immense fun with Walt, making him the grumpiest, most offensive old man imaginable. If he isn’t growling his disapproval at his son’s spoilt kids, he’s muttering a racial slur as he suspiciously spies on his Asian neighbours from his porch. Eastwood cleverly gives Walt the odd flash of humanity to balance all the bile, and despite his acerbic exterior, we have sympathy for his loneliness and lost sense of purpose.
A lot of the humour comes from Eastwood’s grumpy old man schtick and his distrust for his neighbours, the Lors, whose older family members are, in turn, highly suspicious of him. The moral message of the movie is perhaps a little heavy handed, but it is the awkward situations and funny exchanges between Walt and the Lors that sparkle, like a scene when their daughter invites him to a barbecue and he is forced to grimace politely at dozens of foreigners while suppressing a life’s worth of hatred, only to be won over by their cooking.
The movie does have its share of moving moments, and is a serious film at heart, but like many of Eastwood’s other projects, it touches on all aspects of life with a disarming honesty. Even when things get nasty, there is still an undercurrent of humour that keeps the pace brisk. Whether you like drama, comedy, or even a bit of tension, Gran Torino should have you hooked.