Home > Movies, My Movie Reviews > “Gran Torino”: Race Relations 101 With Professor Eastwood

“Gran Torino”: Race Relations 101 With Professor Eastwood

Gran TorinoThere are plenty of stereotypical, racist names for just about every race of people on Earth. If you think you have heard them all, you obviously haven’t seen “Gran Torino” yet. Not only does Clint Eastwood drop about 95% of them, he does it in a way that actually makes his character more endearing.

“Gran Torino” is your basic “who is teaching life to who” story that everyone has seen done over and over. In situations like this, the execution of the tale is what makes the movie. Thankfully, the minimalistic approach of Clint Eastwood’s subtle directing keeps this movie from ever reaching Lifetime movie melodrama, because under any other director, it could have gotten there and gotten there fast.

The premise of “Gran Torino” was kept under pretty tight wraps while it was being made and even now, the marketing of the flick hasn’t really given away the story. Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran whose wife has just passed away. Walt lives in a old Detroit neighborhood that has become a place dominated by Hmong immigrants. Walt openly questions why these people move to his neighborhood, while his old Hmong neighbor questions why Walt hasn’t moved like all the other white people. See? Walt isn’t the only old racist in the neighborhood!

It doesn’t take long to learn that Walt is a mean old fella that doesn’t get along with his two sons and only seems to care for Daisy, his Golden Retriever, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and his precious 1972 Gran Torino (which he built while working at a Ford factory). When his young Hmong neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang), attempts to steal his hot rod, Walt grabs his Korean War rifle and defends his property. This sets off a course of events that lead to Walt befriending Thao and his sister, Sue (Ahney Her).

Once Walt starts hanging out with the Hmong people, the movie starts to teeter on the edge of after-school special. Thao is very intelligent but timidly quiet. He is dominated by his sister Sue, who wants nothing but the best for him. Walt helps Thao open up and, for lack of a better phrase, become a man.

Along the way, Thao has a problem with a local Hmong gang. They want to recruit him and when he resists, they begin to punish him. It’s obvious where the story is going and it’s only a matter of time before Walt goes to defend his new friend and his family.

Thankfully, the movie does not get too heavy-handed and plays pretty close to the vest. There aren’t really any over the top moments of self-realization or over emoting by the actors. The two kids are fantastic and they hold their own on screen with Eastwood. Her is quite funny and Vang has one particular emotional outburst that is pretty moving. It’s just another example of the superb directing of Clint Eastwood. He seems to get great performances out of his actors.

Of course, this entire movie is dominated by Clint Eastwood. If this is to be his acting swan song, he could not have chosen a better vehicle for it. Walt hurls insults at his “zipperhead” neighbors, his “dago” barber, the “mick” construction worker, and the “spook” street kids. While this type of behavior should make Walt despicable, Eastwood spits out the filth and vulgarity with such joy and care that it’s impossible to hate him. He is hilariously quick witted and brutally honest. While “Unforgiven”‘s William Munny will always be the Eastwood performance that I remember the most, this will definitely remain a very close second.

Holy Grail“Gran Torino” isn’t reaching for the stars or trying to be anything but what it is, which is a classic redemption tale. It’s another solid entry into Clint Eastwood’s directorial career and an exceptional acting performance. There is a legitimate shot at an Oscar as Best Actor for Eastwood and it is well deserved.

  1. Anonymous
    December 31, 2008 at 4:00 PM

    When in “el infierno” is it going to play at a local theater?
    I’ve been watching trailers and trailers in theaters then watched it go from coming soon to limited then go from limited to expand and now it’s no where to be found …not even coming soon..like it never existed, it was all in my imagination…

  2. al
    December 31, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    Boo Hoo
    poor little fool !!!

  3. January 15, 2009 at 1:39 AM

    Clint Eastwood did a great job of using his outward crankiness to come across as mean as well as somehow heroic this newest film of his

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