What a great week. I had three glorious inches of snow in my yard, the kids were out of school, the presidential inauguration finally occurred, and, gratefully, not even one of my checks bounced. Just when I thought the week couldn’t get any better, I saw “Gran Torino.” Wow. This week is one for the books.
Seventy-eight year old Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran embossed and emblazoned with bitterness and bigotry. As the film opens, we are at the funeral of Walt’s beloved wife. His grandchildren arrive late, one wearing a football jersey and ear buds and the other wearing a midriff T-shirt with an exposed belly ring and a cell phone attached at the palm. Walt audibly sneers at them from the vicinity of the coffin. The post funeral rituals bring them back to Walt’s house, where audiences learn that Walt isn’t just upset about the funeral. He’s upset about life. He’s upset that his family is disrespectful, that his neighbors are “swamp-rats,” and that his uncouth and undeserving granddaughter told him that when he dies she wants his couch and his vintage ’72 Gran Torino.
Walt is alone, and only enjoys the company of Pabst Blue Ribbon and his old yellow dog, Daisy. And he wants to keep it that way.
One sullen evening, a fight erupts on his tidy lawn, and Walt pulls out the big guns. No really, he pulled out the M1 rifle. His neighbors, a Hmong family, fights to keep their teenage son, Thao, away from a gang that is aggressively trying to recruit him.
“Get off my lawn,” Walt snarls as they try to express their gratitude for his help.
But Thao acquiesces to the persistent thugs, and tries to steal Walt’s Gran Torino as his gang initiation. He fails, thanks to the M1 again, and Thao is made to work off his moral debt to Walt as Hmong tradition dictates.
Walt looks around his Detroit neighborhood and sees that he is the only white man left in it. He goes to a doctor’s office and sees that he is the only American in it. And for a man who vehemently fought for his country, this means something. So who’d have thought that a young punk kid could teach the old bigoted badger a thing or two about life? Who’d have thought that a car called Gran Torino could change so many lives?
Now let’s be clear: “Gran Torino” is not for the racially sensitive among you. If you get offended when someone makes a stereotypical reference, your little feelings will not only be hurt, they’ll be downright sore after this film.
Polish, African-Americans, Italians, Asians, Irish, Latinos and Indians will feel the lash of Walt’s tongue. But somehow, someway, Clint Eastwood pulls it off.
In fact, he pulls everything off. The beginning, the middle, the ending — this film was incredible. It cups in its worthy hands all of the components that make a great film: It is entertaining (slurs and all), it has a good story to tell, it has old faces and new faces, stirs emotions good and bad, and has an unpredictable but realistic ending. Not one single scene is wasted. Each element and minuscule detail has its purpose. And best of all, it is memorable. You’ll be thinking of this film for a long time to come.
Clint Eastwood will be thinking of it as well. He has announced that he will be retiring from acting after “Gran Torino.” He still intends to wear the director’s hat just as he did in this film, but the familiar face in front of the camera will be missing. And he will be missed. He is Dirty Harry. He is Josey Wales. He is Rowdy Yates, Philo Beddoe, The Man with No Name, Preacher, Pale Rider, Frank Morris, Frank Horrigan, William Money, many others, and now, he is Walt Kowalski.
Rated R for language throughout and some violence and running at 1 hour and 56 minutes, “Gran Torino” is phenomenal. It gets 4 1/2 bags of popcorn.