In his review of Gran Torino, critic Roger Ebert points out that Clint Eastwood has been an actor for 53 years and a director for 37 years. He has won two Oscars for direction and two Oscars for Best Picture. The filmmaker-actor is 78 years old. It is unlikely that any artist anywhere in the world can match these numbers. Which is reason enough to watch Gran Torino, which features Eastwood as director, producer and lead.
Eastwood plays Walt, a retired, recently widowed, unapologetically bigoted Korean war vet. Walt sits on his porch with a chilled beer and his aging dog and watches with hostility as the once-white Detroit neighborhood is overrun by immigrants from Laos, people Walt refers to as gooks, chinks and zipper head.
Actually Walt snarls more than he talks and not just at his neighbors but also at his estranged sons, his selfish grand-children and the local priest who keeps trying to persuade Walt to come in for a confession. Walt is an alienated, difficult man but slowly, he develops a friendship with a young immigrant boy, who at one point tries to steal Walt?s prized possession ? a 1972 Gran Torino car, which the film takes its title from. Walt becomes an unlikely mentor. At one point he says, ?I have more in common with these gooks than I have with my own family.? Walt?s friendship with Tao, whom he insists on calling Toad, draws him into a vortex of violence but also offers him redemption.
Gran Torino is by no means, Eastwood?s masterwork. The plot movement is predictable and several moments are heavy handed. But even when the pace slackens, you can?t take your eyes off the screen, only because of Clint Eastwood. Walt resonates with all of Eastwood?s earlier action hero roles, from Dirty Harry to The Unforgiven.
His granite face and towering presence fills each frame. In one scene, he squints at some thugs and says: ?Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while that you shouldn?t have messed with. That?s me.? That line made me want to jump up and whistle loudly.
Eastwood combines his legendary tough guy act with a poignancy, affection and wry humor that make Gran Torino satisfying. The film is a testament to Eastwood?s enduring talent. He has hinted that it might be his last turn as actor, which is one more reason to catch it.
Gran Torino is a cut above.