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Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood's latest film shows audiences bigotry, banditry and the fading American way of life

By Patricia Ingold

Gran Torino
Directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Walt Kowalski is one of the few remaining white faces in a community dominated by south-east Asian immigrants, a man whose neat home stands in contrast to the unkempt lawns and boarded-up buildings of his declining neighbourhood. When he sneers at his neighbours, the retired autoworker and bigoted Korean War veteran is never very far from the battlefield.

Gran Torino — directed by and starring Clint Eastwood — is a spare, melancholy film. But it is also about a life-changing experience.

Inadvertently rescuing a shy teen named Thao Lor from a neighbourhood gang bent on forcing the youth to steal his 1972 Gran Torino, Walt reluctantly accepts the Lor family’s hospitality. Then Thao’s persistent sister, Sue, convinces him to mentor her brother.

Eastwood’s Walt is a character he has portrayed many times throughout his career — that of a deeply moral man seeking justice through questionable means. As an irritable senior he’s genuinely amusing, but there’s much more to his performance. When rattling the gang with a description of dead Koreans stacked like sand bags, he’s terrifying; when unable to forgive himself or connect with his adult children, he’s poignant.

As the neighbourhood violence escalates, Walt’s hatred for the gang ceases to be about race and is fuelled instead by his deepening friendships with Thao and Sue. When the gang viciously assaults Sue, he cleans his rifles, vowing to “finish things.”

Despite its inflammatory subject matter, an overwhelming sense of loss pervades the film with its depiction of a fading American way of life, allusions to a dying auto industry and dim view of religious faith. Walt has no stomach for the attentions of a naive priest eager to receive his confession. He saves his genuine, heart-stopping confession for Thao — the person who needs to hear it most.

The ending won’t please everyone, but Gran Torino deserves its place alongside the thoughtful films in actor-director Eastwood’s late-career renaissance. It’s a film that lingers in the memory long after the credits have rolled.

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