Word is the Gran Torino
may be screen legend's final ride as an actor - in recent years, the
78-year-old screen icon has been spending much more time behind the cameras
than in front. Well, if this is Clint's swan song, then he has found a pretty perfect way
to bring down the curtain (then again, people said the same about
Unforgiven sixteen years ago). However, director Clint has once
again found the dark soul of his earlier iconic character - the yin and
yang of the man with no name.
Walt Kowalski is an elderly
man who lives in a Detroit neighborhood which has been falling apart around
him for years. As Gran Torino starts his wife has just died, in
fact we first see Walt in the funeral home. However, instead of
mourning, the obvious emotion he is feeling is anger. He's pissed
that his grandkids are underdressed in football jerseys and mini-skirts.
He's pissed that his son is driving a foreign car. (Walt made a living
building Fords.) Mostly, he's pissed at the young, fresh-faced,
sincere priest who is peddling what Walt considers platitudes - trying to make
his wife's death seem to be a reason for joy as well as sadness.
Now that he has lost his
wife, Walt only loves two things, his dog Daisy and his cherry 1972 Gran
Torino - a muscle car that he has cared for fanatically since the day he
helped to create it on the Ford assembly line. He doesn't seem to
drive it really, beyond short trips up and down his driveway. Regular
driving he leaves to his old white pickup truck. However, mostly Walt spends his days
puttering around the house and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon on his porch while
he watches everything which goes on in the neighborhood.
Walt's new neighbors are a
multi-generational Hmong (Vietnamese) family. The oldest son is Thao
(Bee Vang), a smart, shy, bookish sort who is being pressured to join a
local gang. When the gang gives the boy an initiation task to steal
the Gran Torino, the two households' fates are forever entwined.
Walt catches the boy trying
to steal the car and turns a rifle on the kid, however the boy gets away.
When the gang members return to make Thao pay for failing initiation, the
old man next door runs them off with the rifle and a cold-blooded "Get off
of my lawn" - a seemingly ineffectual term that Eastwood is able to turn
into a threat every bit as bone-chilling as "Go ahead. Make my day."
Because Walt saved Thao
(and later his sister Sue), the Asian family, which places a premium on
honor makes Thao work for Walt to repay the debt - though Walt is not so
thrilled with the arrangement, he takes it upon himself to toughen the kid
up and make him a man. In the meantime, he grows to really like and
respect sister Sue (Abney Her), who is sure of herself, funny and willing to
give it back to the old guy as well as she gets.
However, though Walt gains
a grudging friendship and respect for his neighbors, it is a nice touch that
he does not really treat them all that much better. Walt is a
crotchety old coot, nothing is going to change that. However, if his
speech may be casually racist and insulting, you eventually realize that it
all because of the world he came of age in rather than an indictment the man. He may be
hard-boiled, but he does have a strong sense of justice and right or wrong.
Walt also comes to gain a
bit of a meeting of the minds with the young priest (Christopher Carley) -
Walt teaches the preacher about being around death and the priest helps to
get Walt to appreciate life as well.
Towards the end, Gran
Torino downshifts a little - becoming a somewhat standard urban
adventure drama, though it is strongly colored by Eastwood's late-career
determination to not glamorize violence as he did earlier in his career.
However it is lifted by particularly vivid characters and some extremely
strong acting. None of that fine work is better than that of the aging
icon in the driver's seat.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: June 1, 2009.