Clint Eastwood is the epitome of Hollywood legend. As an actor, Eastwood, in his fifty four years of working in the industry has become synonymous with the tough guy demeanor. As a director, Eastwood’s unfussy approach to direction has made him a director who knows how to get the best out of his actors. In Gran Torino, Eastwood takes on the dual role of actor and director, something he has done in films such as Heartbreak Ridge and Unforgiven.
Walt Kowalski is a retired Ford motor company employee and veteran of the Korean war. He has spent the majority of his life living in the same house in the suburbs of Michigan. Over the years he has seen the neighbourhood change with the arrival of more and more Hmong people. This is something that causes Kowalski irritation, as he is somewhat of a racist. When Walt steps in on a violent situation and saves his teenage Hmong neighbour (in actuality, Walt steps in just to save his lawn), he finds himself exalted as a hero in the Hmong community. Walt is then forced to deal with the unwanted attention his new celebrity brings him.
There’s two types of people in the world. Those who love Clint. And those who don’t. For those who do, this film is like a glorious epilogue for Eastwood’s career. For those who aren’t Clint fans, this film should turn them. Eastwood’s performance is just fantastic. He a grumpy, seething malcontent. And while that doesn’t sound like something to be entertained by, Eastwood is just so good in the role that it’s impossible not to enjoy the film. Racism aside, it’s easy to imagine Walt Kowalski as a retired Harry Callaghan. Eastwood has stated that Gran Torino will be his last film as an actor. While this is a sad thing to hear, it’s great that Eastwood went out with such a bang. Walt Kowalski is a no-nonsense, shit-kicking badass. And enormously entertaining to watch.
Where the film does fall slightly, it is with the support cast. To be fair, the Hmong actors are all first-timers, hand picked from the community for the roles. While their inexperience certainly shows next to Clint, they do a good enough job not to distract from the film. It’s a minor complaint. But Eastwood’s performance more than makes up for it. The script isn’t flawless. Some of the character arcs are a little questionable. Kowalski’s transition from racist to non-racist happens rather quickly. But aside from that, there’s not much to complain about. Eastwood manages to inject quite a bit of humour into the role that could otherwise be quite unlikable. With his trousers hitched up over his belly and a permanent scowl on his face, Kowalski manages to have elements of many of Clint’s iconic roles, while still being independent of these.
For the film that marks the end of Clint Eastwood’s acting career, Gran Torino is a great swansong. As a film by itself, it’s very entertaining, and questionably overlooked in favour of the more dour and serious Changeling. But it’s a film that surprises you in how entertaining it is. And at 78, Clint’s still got it and looks as badass as ever.