The story of a patriotic old man who embraces an estranged Hmong family and solves their problems with an intimidating gang
Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood returns as Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. A prejudiced old man who’s forced to live in a neighbourhood that’s quickly changing around him. His wife has passed on and he lives only with his dog. Walt snarls at the state of the current world and appears intolerant towards foreign cultures and spiteful young kids. Walt has worked hard through his life, from a soldier fighting in Vietnam to working in a Ford car factory. His prized Gran Torino being a little piece of history from working there boasting that he worked on the car himself on the factory line. Walt takes good care of his property which looks quite out of place on a street filled with decaying houses either side occupied by Hmong families but Walt refuses to be moved out of his home.
Walt is increasingly pressured by the Hmong neighbours who often cause commotion and disturb his peace. A gang in particular who terrorise the street are found fighting on his lawn. An old-fashioned stand-off erupts. Walt growls at them demanding they get of his lawn, pointing his old service M1 Garand in their faces with no hesitation to use it if he has to. The gang threaten him and tell him to watch his back. His precious Gran Torino becomes a target of the gang who use it as initiation for a young boy. Thao, if he can steal it from Walt’s property. But Walt is no pushover and discovers Thao in the act. The next day, Thao is instructed to apologise by his ashamed family but Walt would really just rather be left alone and forget about it.
Walt is forced by his neighbours who insist on making it up to him to take Thao and make him do chores to pay for what he has done. Thao appears humble as Walt insults him for being a thief and being such a pathetic person. And so Walt has little choice but to take him in and gives him jobs he can find to keep him busy. Using him to fix up the neglected neighbourhood. Walt learns about Thao and his situation and gives him beneficial skills and advice. Walt ends up assuming the role of a mentor figure and gives Thao the much needed kick up the arse to get his life on track by telling him how to act around people and stick up for himself. Even helping him get his first job.
We get a real sense that these characters could be real people and the situations they’re stuck in, very true to life. We can sympathise with Thao who faces bullying from the gang and Walt for feeling like an outsider. Thao’s sister Sue shares some funny back and forth small talk with Walt. Usually concluding with Walt dishing out an ignorant insult and Sue taking it on the chin The film isn’t afraid to thrown in certain perhaps taboo subjects either which is done in the right context and delivered well to ensue shock and disgust. It’s great to see Walt become more open and generous as the film goes on and demonstrates him showing compassion for the family he once wouldn’t have shown little time for. Side characters also play a seemingly crucial role. Sometimes halting the film from really progressing but gives a sense of community and signifies that Walt isn’t entirely alone, he just likes to shut people out. Including his family who he barely speaks to and finds it difficult and painful to have a heart to heart over the phone with his son.
Racial slurs and insults are uttered by Walt throughout the film which are used to quite amusing effect. It’s hysterical to see Clint portray a classic rendition of a grumpy old man. Walt is your typical old breed of American and it’s hard to imagine him being played by anyone else other than Eastwood. Who still looks in great shape for his age.
The scenes in the barbers especially, injects great humour into quite a cynical look at life and there is a real buddy vibe between Walt and his barber.
The film mixes occasional action scenes which livens up the atmosphere and leaves you even more engrossed. Eastwood still has an amazing ability to come across mean and threatening. Completely the opposite to his introvert personality in real life which is a testament to his acting abilities once more. The cool, memorable quotes you’d expect from an Eastwood display are indeed present.
The soundtrack is beautiful yet melancholy. A collaboration between Clint and jazz musician Jamie Cullum and also Clint’s son Kyle. Which gives a real sense that this is quite a family affair and a labour of love. His other son Scott also makes a small cameo. Soft pianos and gentle humming is used over montages of Thao working for Walt which comes across very pleasant. The theme which lingers on the end credits sung by Clint himself in the voice of Walt is a lovely tranquil way to end the story.
Gran Torino is one of those special films that only comes around once in a while. Well worth watching, especially if you’re familiar with or a fan of Clint’s previous work.
Gran Torino is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray