No-one does bitter old dude like Clint Eastwood. Not in the grumbling old biddy way like, say, the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond – we mean bitter, hardened old man who’s gonna kick some ass if you cross him. Gran Torino, the Eastwood-directed tale of a lonely, bigoted retiree coming to terms with his Asian neigbours in middle America, is vintage Clint at his best. It’s part poignant drama, part plot-twisting thriller, and all bad-ass, bristling attitude from the maestro himself, which is no mean feat at the age of 78.
Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a gun-toting, hard-drinking ex-auto plant worker whose wife has just passed away and whose family regards him as a slightly insane inconvenience. To make matters worse, his formerly blue-collar, all-white neighbourhood is being overrun with Asian immigrants, which doesn’t bode well for the old fella’s rampant racism. His only joy in life comes from the 1972 Gran Torino he keeps locked in his garage and polishes nightly, and when his young Hmong neighbour Thao (Bee Van) attempts to steal the car in a botched gang initiation rite, Walt, in typical Eastwood fashion, unleashes hell. It’s only the gutsy, smartmouth efforts of his sister Sue (Ahney Her) that convinces Walt to give Thao and his family a chance, allowing the boy to do daily chores for him to make up for his crime. Slowly, an unlikely bond grows between the shy Thao and his hardened shell of a neighbour, and in Million Dollar Baby-esque scenes, allows a sequence of events to play out that will change all of their lives.
As we’ve come to expect from such a distinguished veteran, Eastwood gives a hell of a performance here, not letting the somewhat awkward fact he’s directing himself matter one iota. From his rasping growl of a voice to his no-bull one-liners, his portrayal of a world-hardened man on the edge is so spot-on, it makes the Gerard Butler and Mel Gibson man-on-a-revenge-mission thrillers of today look utterly laughable (if they didn’t before). But there’s always enough weariness and sadness behind the anger that he’s never playing just a caricature – you can see and understand how he got this way, and why he finds himself adrift in this new world.
Gran Torino isn’t perhaps one of those films you’d rush out to buy, but it’s one of those that creeps up on you, quite unexpectedly and quite beautifully, and that you’ll find it awfully hard to let go of as the credits roll up. And if you’re an Eastwood fan, it’s a must-see.
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