Apparently Clint wants to make sure we remember him well after his death. The last couple of years the guy, in his late 70’s, turns out one good film after another. Gran Torino is another one that will go down in history is being one of Clint’s better films.
In Gran Torino Clint plays a character similar to Dirty Harry. If there ever comes a 6th Dirty Harry movie he would be like Walt Kowalski. Retired but not written off.
Walt has seen war. He fought in Korea and even though he doesn’t acknowledge it to the outside world it is what made him the racist disgruntled old man his is today. He wife just died and at the ceremony he pays more attention to the wardrobe of his granddaughter then to his deceased wife. He says whatever is on his mind, no matter if and how it offends people. He has a cold relationship with his sons who he only speaks when they want something from him. He is one of the last white Americans in a neighborhood that’s increasingly becoming a mix of all kinds of cultures and violent gangs. This doesn’t scare Walt, he has seen death and isn’t afraid of it. He certainly isn’t fond of a Hmong family living next door to him, especially when the son of that family tries to steal his Gran Torino, which he was forced by the gang his nephew belongs to. After Walt saves the family from a violent run in with said gang (they were on his lawn) the outspoken Sue offers her brother as a help. He must do the chores Walt has for him as punishment for trying to steal the car. It’s this pact between the two that will have consequences for both their lives.
Even though the material is fairly simple; a racist learns to respect other cultures, it’s quite an effective and skillfully made film. We all know people like Walt Kowalski, deep inside we sometimes are a Walt Kowalski. Prejudice is a regular human trait created by stereotypes, fear, life experience, and the way people are brought up by their parents. Walt has a whole vocabulary describing the Hmong people next door, it’s as if he’s reading the Racist Dictionary every night before bed. It’s quite amusing I must add though. Disgruntled as he may be, and a character you don’t want to have living near you, his remarks about everybody can be quite funny. That’s the reason we don’t despise a character like Walt. He has fairly justified reason to be prejudice but he also treats everybody the same in the end no matter what part of the world one is from. The “gooks” next door only get judged upon from a distance, his family doesn’t. Not even a priest is safe as he is described as “an overeducated 27-year-old virgin who likes to hold the hands of superstitious old ladies and promise them everlasting life.”
Gran Torino, while not breaking new ground and fairly simplifying the conversion of a racist to someone with a more open mind, is an entertaining movie with a pounding heart.