This Distracted Globe random header image

Widowed By War, The Auto Plant and Their Wives

May 6th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Gran Torino 2008 poster A Gran Torino 2008 poster B

Gran Torino (2008)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Nick Schenk, story by Dave Johannson & Nick Schenk
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Bill Gerber
116 minutes

Gran Torino belongs in the pocket full of great Clint Eastwood films. This story seems so tailored to his persona as an actor and his partialities as a filmmaker that it’s impossible to consider anyone else in the lead role. Paul Newman as Dirty Harry? Steve McQueen as Josey Wales? Tom Cruise as Frank Horrigan from In The Line of Fire? No way. And Walt Kowalski is a part that seems like it was just waiting there for Eastwood to age into at 78. Written on spec by an aspiring screenwriter in Minnesota named Nick Schenk who listened when old farts like Walt came into the liquor warehouse where he worked and who also had Hmong co-workers on a night shift with him at a videotape company, if Gran Torino is the last performance of Eastwood’s career, he couldn’t have picked a richer note to go out on.

Instead of a stock movie with a paint-by-numbers appeal, Schenk — who got writing help from a buddy named Dave Johannson — seems to have cut this raw but completely resonant drama from life, where men widowed by war, the auto plant and finally their wives find something that still needs the attention of their considerable knowledge and skills. The movie has the conviction not to wimp out on its characters, introducing Walt as more virulent than some actual racists, giving the movie both power and a point of view. The performances (particularly by Christopher Carley as a young Catholic priest and Ahney Her as the teenage daughter Walt sort of adopts) are a surprise and completely refreshing, while Eastwood’s visual palette and pacing marry shadow and substance (Tom Stern lit the picture) and are absolutely striking.

31 Days of Eastwood

Following the funeral of his wife, retired Detroit auto assemblyman and Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) settles into a life of grizzled solitude, maintaining his vintage 1972 Ford Gran Torino in a neighborhood that much to Walt’s dismay has been abandoned by white flight and repopulated by Hmong immigrants from southeast Asia. Walt is hostile towards practically everybody, from the baby faced Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) his wife instructed to watch over him, to his two estranged sons, to his grandkids, to “zipperheads” and “spooks”. Walt is downright inhospitable to the young man of the house next door, Thao Lor (Bee Vang), a shy Hmong teenager badgered by his strong willed sister Sue (Ahney Her).

Pressured by his derelict cousin Spider (Doua Moua) to join a Hmong gang, Thao is sent to steal Walt’s Gran Torino as an initiation.  Walt scares the boy off by falling in his garage and discharging his M-1 service rifle. When Spider and his crew return to discipline their new recruit and a scuffle breaks out, Walt runs the gangbangers off with his rifle. Hailed as a hero by his neighbors and their people, Walt is gradually broken out of his bitter shell by Sue. To correct the disgrace he’s brought to the family, Thao is loaned out to Walt for odd jobs, but it’s Walt who takes the kid under his wing, helping him land a construction job and encouraging him to pursue a girl he’s interested in named Youa (Choua Kue). When Spider and his crew refuse to leave the family alone, Walt sees one last problem for him to fix.

Gran Torino 2008 Brian Howe Brian Haley Geraldine Hughes Clint Eastwood

Gran Torino 2008 Nana Gbewonyo

Gran Torino 2008 Doua Moua Bee Vang

Gran Torino 2008 Clint Eastwood Christopher Carley

Gran Torino 2008 Ahney Her

Gran Torino 2008 Clint Eastwood

Gran Torino 2008 Clint Eastwood

Gran Torino 2008 Bee Vang Clint Eastwood

Gran Torino 2008

Gran Torino 2008 Clint Eastwood

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 206 users: 80% for Gran Torino

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 72 for Gran Torino

What do you say?

Tags: Bathtub scene · Brother/sister relationship · Coming of age · Famous line · Gangsters and hoodlums · Master and pupil · No opening credits

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Yojimbo_5 // May 6, 2010 at 9:20 am

    “…if Gran Torino is the last performance of Eastwood’s career, he couldn’t have picked a richer note to go out on.”

    Exactly. The late phase of Eastwood’s career, transitioning into directing only, has been a personal refutation of the tropes of his action career, and “Gran Torino” more than others. Ever since the Leone westerns, there has always been “that” scene where the Eastwood character takes on a collection of gun-men and dispatches them all without getting a scratch. It was funny in the “Dollar” films, expected of Eastwood ever since–Siegel, Eastwood, and other directors have tried to find ways to legitimize that scene with distractions, space, and psychology. Eastwood ends “Gran Torino” with the perfect answer to it, and still comes out the hero. It’s a film that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but I found it heartening, very funny at times (the cussing is so over-the-top but also ritualistic) not unlike “The Outlaw Josey Wales:” you can lose your family, but you can find another with an open heart.

    Great film.

    By the way, the title of your piece is a perfect description. Bravo.

  • 2 Kristie // May 7, 2010 at 1:24 am

    For me “Gran Torino” is something of the quintessential American movie. I love that Clint Eastwood never resorts to histrionics, just plain and simple storytelling. Pure class.
    One of his best, certainly. I am really looking forward to whatever my favorite octogenarian will come up next.
    And to whatever you come up with next. 😉

  • 3 Joe Valdez // May 7, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Jim: Thanks so much for that comment. I hadn’t thought about Gran Torino in relation to Clint’s gunslinger roles because it seems cast so apart from that mold. Like you, I responded to the theme of the surrogate family, but love the way Eastwood shuns cuteness or sentimentality. If you look at what happened in Arizona, there are a lot of angry white people like Walt out there, but instead of ridiculing him, the movie follows the path of Josey Wales and shows we all have more in common than not.

    Kristie: Clint’s philosophy if there is one seems to revolve around show up, work hard, don’t bitch or moan, keep it simple, move on. But I think that a woman who shushes a couple in a German theater for demonstrating lack of respect during an Eastwood picture makes you more of an expert than I. Thanks so much for commenting!

Leave a Comment