Review by Jack Foley
CLINT Eastwood fans rejoice! After seemingly entering acting retirement following Million Dollar Baby, the screen icon returns for another memorable performance in the must-see Gran Torino.
Never one to rest on his laurels, despite being 78 years of age, Eastwood also directs and produces this tale of personal redemption that finds him playing one of his toughest characters yet.
Walt Kowalski is a grouchy Korean War veteran who is living out his days in a neighbourhood that, to his dismay, has become over-run with Hmong immigrants. Estranged from his two sons, appalled by the dis-respectful behaviour of their granchildren and coming to terms with the recent loss of his wife, Walt has nothing to live for.
But when the sheepish son of his Hmong neighbours is put up to attempting to steal Walt’s prized 1972 Gran Torino by local gang members, Walt is forced to take action, subsequently becoming an unlikely neighbourhood hero and forging an unlikely relationship with the neighbours he would prefer to loathe.
As matters reach their inevitably violent end, however, Walt is given the chance to lay some past demons to rest, while rediscovering some of his former values.
The greatest pleasure in watching the events of Gran Torino unfold lie in Eastwood’s commanding central performance. Walt Kowalski is like a greatest hits compendium of all of his great roles, from the steely silence of his Man With No Name, to the no-nonsense Dirty Harry Callahan, right through to his haunted William Munny in Unforgiven.
And yet, at the same time, Kowalski is very much his own man, a bigot and racist who snarls, barks and willingly puts down any neighbour unlucky enough to get in his way.
Following his unlikely act of heroism, however, Walt gradually comes to accept his neighbours and, in particular, their mild-mannered son, Thao (Bee Vang) and his sassy sister Sue (Ahney Her). He’s even forced to muse to himself that he has more in common with them than his own family.
Likewise, his slow re-awakening prompts him to confide in young neighbourhood priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), culminating in a touching confessional moment that taps into a vulnerability not usually associated with the steely Eastwood persona.
Walt’s journey towards redemption is, by turns, funny, tense and ultimately quite poignant and there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the cinema by the time it reaches its conclusion.
If Eastwood shines as the film’s star, then he also impresses as its director, allowing proceedings to unfold at a typically leisurely pace and never succumbing to the type of schmaltz that may have smothered the denouement.
Rather, he makes sure that Walt has to work hard to gain our sympathy, whilst cleverly providing his long-term fans with various nods to his back catalogue.
And he’s also gracious enough to allow all of his supporting cast to have their moments, too, with Bee Vang and Ahney Her particularly endearing as the Hmong brother and sister who gradually melt Walt’s heart and John Carroll Lynch equally brilliant as Barber Martin, a willing hub for Walt’s playful abuse. The banter between the two of them offers one of the film’s many pleasures.
If, as suggested, Gran Torino does prove to be Eastwood’s final starring role, then it’s a great way to bow out. It’s a tour-de-force from a true icon that even delivers another memorable catchphrase in the form of “get off my lawn”. Eastwood has, once again, made our year!
Running time: 116mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 29, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Clint Eastwood interview
- View photos of Gran Torino