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
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.
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.
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?