DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Nick Schenk • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Bill Gerber, Robert Lorenz • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES: James J. Murakami • CAST: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
Written by Nick Schenk, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort is a wry look at gang violence, racism and the long-lasting effects of war. It is also something of a history lesson on the Hmong people, an Asian ethnic group who sought refuge in America following the Korean War.
Clint Eastwood is, of course, the cowboy and he growls his way throughout the entire film as Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski. Walt views the world mostly from the seat of his old Ford pickup truck or from the porch of his well kept home which flies the American flag determinedly before it. And if he is the gun-toting, tobacco-chewing cowboy, then his 1972 Gran Torino is his trusty steed and the Asian, Latino and African-American gangs that roam the neighbourhood are the wild outlaws.
As the last ‘real’ American resolvedly living in the old neighbourhood, Walt does not discriminate who he discriminates against. Be it his Hmong neighbours, tough black teenagers, wimpy white boys, Irish construction workers, an Italian barber or his own children – all fall victim to his insults. Kowalski’s life faces upheaval when his ’72 Gran Torino attracts interest from a Hmong gang. They challenge Thao, Kowalski’s teenage neighbour played by Bee Vang, to steal the car which remains in mint condition since the day he himself rolled it off the Ford assembly line.
Upliftingly enough, Walter finds his prejudices are challenged when he intercepts Thao’s attempt at theft and unwittingly saves him from the gang. Thao’s family, including his grandmother, an even more crotchety, female version of Walter, show their gratitude by showering gifts on the old man, which he grudgingly accepts. The teenager begins to look on the septuagenarian as a role model, while his sister Sue (Ahney Her) infiltrates Walter’s prickly demeanour to find that despite a penchant for describing his neighbours as ‘swamp rats’ and ‘gooks’, Walter is a lovable, if slightly manic, character.
Beginning and ending with a funeral, questions surrounding life and death pervade the movie. The last wish of Walter’s late wife was that he would go to confession and a young red-haired priest is entrusted with ensuring that he does.
In what is rumoured to be his final outing in front of the cameras, Eastwood is more than comfortable in the role while the supporting cast are instantly memorable. A different look at gang violence and the lasting effect of murder, Gran Torino upholds Eastwood’s cast-iron reputation as an actor, director and the ultimate gunslinger.