True, Clint Eastwood’s virility now seethes through thinning flesh, brittle bones and puckered cheeks but its impact is still almighty. The aged Dirty Harry star’s impending octogenarian status does nothing to diminish Clint Eastwood as the all-time American action hero. On the contrary, his latest film, Gran Torino, proves that the Hollywood legend’s verbal prowess is as commanding today as his physical presence was during his early career.
Set in the industrial scrapheap of Detroit, Gran Torino opens with a disgruntled Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) who sneers his way through his late wife’s funeral. He scoffs at the insincerity of the inexperienced Father Janovich’s (Christopher Carley) eulogy, and has little patience for his two sons, who avoid him unless for their own personal gain. As a retired Ford automobile assembly line worker and Korean War veteran, Walt’s patriotism verges on racism, and the stars and stripes flag proudly fixed to his house in Highland Park, Michigan, cannot ward off the immigrants who now dominate the neighbourhood.
Next door to Walt live two Hmong kids, the shy Thao (Bee Vang) and his sister Sue (Ahney Her). Thao’s attempt at stealing Walt’s prized 1972 Gran Torino in a gang initiation sets a chain of events in motion, and when Walt intervenes in a fight that occurs on his lawn between Thao and the gang, he’s soon regarded as a local hero. Gradually, Walt assumes role of protector to Sue and Thao, and a friendship blossoms. He learns that the Hmongs had sided with the US in the Korean War only to end up in refugee camps, a fact that fascinated script writer Nick Schenk whilst working with Hmongs in a factory in Minnesota during the 90s. Greatly enhanced by Eastwood’s subtle comedic snarls, this drama gathers pace in an unexpected, tragic ending that is almost as shocking as the movie’s failure to garner a single Oscar nomination.