It’s a film that covers a lot of territory – the changing face of the U.S.A through migration, isolation, aging and racism. It stars Clint Eastwood in his first role since his multi-award winning, Million Dollar Baby (2004) and continues to cement him as the North American director who searches the deepest into questions of morality, responsibility and justice. Kylie Boltin takes a look.
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27 Jan 2009 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 11:30 PM

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a man from another era. A member of the First Cavalry 1951 in Korea, a lifetime Ford factory worker recently widowed, with two semi-estranged sons and grandchildren who expect him to die any moment. Walt keeps everyone at a distance, his interactions with select acquaintances and his barber consisting of tough, calculated banter. When his beloved wife, Dorothy dies it is her final wish for their priest to hear Walt’s confession. Walt retaliates with, 'I confess that I have no desire to confess to a boy that’s just out of the seminary."

Gran Torino is the first script to be realised for Nick Schenk and has won both him and Eastwood National Board of Review awards for Best Original Screenplay (Schenk) and Best Actor for Eastwood.

The awards are certainly deserved. Eastwood is superb as Kowalski who is unwillingly drawn out of his isolation by his Hmong neighbours, the youngest of whom, Thao (Bee Vang) attempts to steal his prized, 1972 Ford Gran Torino as a part of a gang-initiation. Eastwood’s masterful ability to own his character, to raise fear and ire with the arch of an eyebrow and to communicate for entire scenes while barely speaking is incredible. Here is an actor of such stature, skill and cinematic history – it is Dirty Harry keeping himself out of the retirement home while single-handedly offering a sense of security and peace for members of an ethnic minority under real threat from not only other communities in the rough Detroit neighbourhood, but from their very own.

Through his excellent, hard-nosed script, Schenk has penned a character in Walt who is grumpy, angry and racist and who most often utters dialogue that is excruciating. Even when he befriends Thao and offers guidance, he doesn’t let up.

What are we doing?
What do you want to do – carry your tools in a rice bag?

I questioned whether the sustained slurs were truly necessary. Yet, this is actually an imperfection that adds rather than detracts from the overall power of Gran Torino. The parallels between Thao’s first act of initiation and his following initiation into Walt’s world of 1950s masculine world-view demonstrate that neither is entirely desirable.

Gran Torino — a memorable and affecting film of intensity and conviction.