The latest (and last?) movie to ever match Clint Eastwood and a handgun screened after WW
press deadlines, much to our dismay. The movie's a pleasure, though:
I knew I was going to like Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino
from the moment the director's character, Walt Kowalski, points a shotgun at a posse of Hmong gangbangers and snarls, without any irony, “Get off my lawn.” When one of them objects, he growls further: “We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea—use ‘em for sandbags.” This image is enough to disperse the assembly. The Hmong family the thugs have been harassing presses forward to thank Walt. “Get off my lawn,” he says.
Walt Kowalski is retired from his autoworking job, bereaved of his wife, estranged from his flabby sons and his grasping grandkids, and takes palpable joy in insulting the fey parish priest (Christopher Carley) who dares come calling at his Detroit ranch house. He has grown old on Pabst, cigarettes and rage. He is ridiculously racist, obscenely crotchety and insanely likeable. If this is, as reported, the last role Clint Eastwood will play, you have to credit him for maintaining perfect self-possession of his persona—and recognizing how to emphasize the slight ridiculousness it gains with age. This is Dirty Old Man Harry, cussing and spitting his way into a cantankerous dotage, unimpressed by the new varieties of scum appearing on his doorstep. At moments throughout Gran Torino
, Eastwood bears a striking resemblance to the Paul Newman of Nobody's Fool
, except that he is also willing to kick people in the face.
It is possible, I suppose, to not recognize Gran Torino
as a comedy—to be so upset by Walt's ceaseless use of the slurs “gook” and “zipperhead” that you see him as a horribly benighted old goat. In fact, he is a cartoonishly benighted old goat, a good-natured ribbing from one codger to the rest about their failures of tolerance. How else to explain the way Walt trades ethnic insults with his barber, or how, long after he's befriended by his Hmong neighbors, he continues to badger them about eating dogs? The family, mainly a girl named Sue (Ahney Her) and a boy named Thao (Bee Vang), need a fatherly protector—and Eastwood the director needs an excuse to prolong his mild obsession with bridging gaps of understanding between the American heartland and Asians. So Walt munches the family's dumplings, loans Thao his '72 Ford, and teaches him all the best ethnic slurs.
It perhaps goes without saying that, like everything Eastwood has done since Unforgiven
, Gran Torino
is severely sentimental in a macho, stoic manner—as sentimental as any movie featuring revenge rape can be, and then a little more so. For the closing credits, Eastwood has written a song, “Gran Torino,” which he sings. But the movie, for all its corny solemnity, has an undeniable momentum, and a hero who to the bitter end will sidle up to punks and ask them if they feel lucky. Clint Eastwood has long needed an actor to live up to his impossibly manly standards. That actor is Clint Eastwood.
Gran Torino is rated R. It opens Friday at Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Lake Twin Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas and Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.