The film is a perfect vehicle for Eastwood to show another side of himself, which he does wonderfully.
Many things have been said about Clint Eastwood the filmmaker, including being labeled as prolific and genius. Perhaps the most accurate way to describe Eastwood and his success as a director is enigmatic. How do you describe a "Clint Eastwood movie"? Is there any unifying theme or image that comes to mind when considering his oeuvre that in the last decade has made him one of America’s greatest directors? You could argue that many of his films depict violence of one type or another. However, you would also have to consider the various ways violence is shown and what it is either symbolizing or emphasizing.
Eastwood has shown that he refuses to become a genre unto himself like Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino. He carefully chooses his films, apparently trying to make each one dissimilar from any of his previous works. He has accomplished that once again with Gran Torino, which brings Eastwood back to the screen after a four-year acting hiatus. It is Eastwood’s best performance since Unforgiven and one of his best films yet.
The film is a perfect vehicle for Eastwood to show another side of himself, which he does wonderfully as Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran whose wife has just died. Most of Walt’s early scenes have very little dialogue but he clearly conveys his anger and frustration at those around him. Like a lot of older people and anyone who is used to spending a lot of time alone, Walt talks to himself like someone is actually listening, so we get a good idea of how he feels about his family and his neighbors. His neighbors especially frustrate him as they are mostly Hmong immigrants whom he views as taking over the neighborhood he’s lived in for over 50 years.
Through a series of decisions Walt makes, he becomes involved in the life of his young neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang), and his family. Some would argue that a man with such racism and resentment would never congregate with the family, but Walt’s motives may be something deeper, something mere ignorance can’t prevent from driving him. We watch Walt as he is forced to confront not only his beliefs and convictions but also a past that has haunted him for most of his life.
Rarely do you get a chance to laugh while watching one of Eastwood’s films, but that is not the case in Gran Torino. From Walt’s commentaries on the ethnicities of those around him to how he handles the changes happening to and around him, there is plenty of humor to balance out the very serious issues the film addresses. Eastwood himself is very funny and delivers most of the film’s jokes, again proving that he can continue to surprise us as both an actor and director.
Written by Nick Schenk, the film is not concerned with the violence that can erupt when different cultures are forced to live in close proximity, but the relationships that can develop given the right conditions. Eastwood expertly balances the violence that will inevitably take place with slower-paced scenes depicting the friendships slowly taking shape and changing the people involved, all the while creating a world where it seems like hope of any kind is the last thing people are holding onto. Eastwood is a master of showing us how people react to the cards they are dealt and where their lives have taken them, and Gran Torino is no exception. We see these people at both their best and their worst and the consequences they must face because, like it or not, that is what life is. | Matthew F. Newlin