Every wonder what Mr. Wilson from the Dennis the Menace cartoons would be like in real? Well you need not look any further than Gran Torino. The second film to be released in 2008 from actor director Clint Eastwood, the first being Changeling, is a look at one man’s attempt to overcome prejudice from within in order to save a community. Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a retired Korean War vet trying to live out the rest of his days alone in peace. His wife has recently passed away and both of his sons, and grandchildren, cannot stand him. To make matters worst, Walt has a penchant for spewing crude racist remarks despite living in a predominately ethnic community. The only person who is not turned off by Walt’s fiery tongue is a persistent priest (Christopher Carley) whom Walt cannot seem to shake. When Thao (Bee Vang) is persuaded by a local gang to steal Walt’s prized car, a 1972 Gran Torino, Walt’s solitary existence is changed forever. After spending time with Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her), Walt is forced to not only confront the local gang but his own past as well.
Gran Torino’s story is very familiar, yet somehow manages to feel fresh enough to satisfy. This is partly due to the fact that the film functions in a rather heightened reality. The majority of characters in the first half of the film are cookie-cutter stereotypes. Which is fitting as it personifies how Walt views the world around him. It also serves as a platform for Walt’s racist tongue to let loose. The terminology that comes out of Walt’s mouth will either make you cringe, or cause involuntary laughter due to how outlandish they are. It is only when Walt starts to spend time with his Hmong neighbours that Eastwood reduces the stereotypes and starts to show his characters through a more human eye. Some of the best moments in the film arrive when Walt starts to interact with his surrounding neighbours. Sure the bond between going in the all the obvious directions Walt and Thao felt natural despite goes in the all the obvious directions, yet that does not hinder the genuine feel of their relationship. Speaking of relationships, I was actually more intrigued by Walt’s father daughter style relationship with Sue. Partly because Sue was such a confident character, I enjoyed watching her engage in a battle of wits with Walt. I would even argue that Walt’s evolution in the film has more to do with Sue than Walt.
The performances in the film are decent on the whole. There were moments when the actors, including Eastwood himself, fall prey to overplaying a scene. Yet it is easy to forgive those minor moments, especially in regards to first timers Bee Vang and Ahney Her. While Gran Torino is not as strong as some of Clint Eastwood’s previous directorial efforts, he does a good job nonetheless. Eastwood crafts a film that keeps you drawn in and connected to the characters to the very end. Sure the dialogue is fairly scathing at times, racially speaking, it does work well in the context of the film. Unlike, say In Bruges, I never once felt that the dialogue was written for purely shock inducing sake.In the end Gran Torino is a satisfying ride despite driving down an overly familiar road.