The Beloved Spousal Equivalent and I finally got around to watching Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino last weekend. I wish I could remember what the hell was so important that it kept me from seeing it in the theater. This is a wonderful film.
Truly a character-driven thriller, the story is about a bigoted, retired autoworker named Walt Kowalski, played by Eastwood. Walt is a Korean War veteran and Silver Star winner whose wife has just died. He’s one of the few whites left in a neighborhood gradually being overtaken by Hmong immigrants.
This isn’t a book report. If you want to know what happens, rent the movie. There are several reasons this is a good idea. First is Walt. The script goes out of its way (maybe too far) at the beginning to paint him as an unapologetic racist, and he is. Leaving him at that is too simple, as his bigoted opinions don’t completely blind him to what’s right before his eyes. Walt has a gruff sense of humor, and an old-school sensibility about taking care of things, right and wrong. He learns and grows from the Hmong teenagers next door, just as the young priest learns and grows from Walt, though neither would think it possible at the outset.
Gran Torino is also an expertly crafted thriller of the old school. Eastwood the director knows how to build suspense through implied violence. Contrary to his reputation from his Westerns and Dirty Harry films, almost all of the violence occurring off-screen, and there’s not much of that. Once Walt intervenes in a dispute that spills over onto his lawn from next door, the tension is steadily ratcheted up until the climax. You’ll find yourself not really sure what Walt’s going to do until just before he does it, and the impact of his solution will leave you thinking long afterward.
Eastwood is well aware of the power that can be packed into a quiet movie. Humor is well used, and genuinely funny. It’s been a long time since I was so affected by a movie. How Slumdog Millionaire was voted Best Picture and Gran Torino wasn’t even nominated makes it difficult to take the Academy Awards seriously.