Gran Torino is an unexpected treat—the type of movie that rarely comes along. You find yourself riveted to the spot, surprised at how much empathy you feel for a character that you think you would despise in real life.
Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a Korean War veteran. He’s racist as can be and isn’t ashamed of it. The only things he really seems to enjoy are beer, his dog, his tools, and his work—oh yeah, and his prized possession, a 1972 Gran
Torino. His favorite facial pattern is a disapproving sneer. His favorite action seems to be spitting tobacco as he sneers. He despises young people and especially scantily dressed females. His sons are a disappointment to him.
The crisis point happens when the boy next door, Thao, tries to steal the aforementioned car. Thao is Hmong and considered too feminine by his family. He likes gardening better than hard labor. Walking down the street one day, he is harassed by some Latino gang members and bailed out by his Hmong cousins. This seeming favor becomes dangerous when they decide Thao should join their gang even if he has to be forced. The car theft is an initiation for him. Since he fails, he’s in the dog house, and they come to teach him a lesson. Just at as they’re about to drag him off, out comes Walt, now on his second night of interrupted sleep, Dirty Harry style to threaten the gangbangers with a shot gun. This is where the turning point in the movie happens.
Thao’s very large, very duty-bound family decides that Thao and the entire Hmong community are in Walt’s debt for the attempted crime and his heroic shotgun thing. Despite Walt’s protests they insist on giving him food and gifts as thank you tributes. Then Thao is given to Walt as his personal slave for a week. Walt decides to toughen Thao up.
Walt gets more interaction with his Hmong neighbors than he bargained for. And his lives become more intertwined with them than his own family. And though the gangbangers also continue to take an interest in Thao, Walt doesn’t like seeing his projects get interrupted.
This film is the perfect combination between humor and tragedy. I found myself laughing at most of Walt’s lines. This is a man we have all met at one point or another, but Eastwood’s got the charm to make it likable. His remarks are harmless, rather than caustic, and the family senses that, especially Sue, Thao’s sister, whose charm and feistiness win over Walt. I loved seeing Eastwood, now almost 80 years old, scaring the young gangbangers with his words and imaginary handgun gestures.
Clint Eastwood proves he’s still tough and in this visceral performance that will be remembered long after the golden statues are given out.