It used to be that there was only one man who could get away with calling a person of Asian decent both a “pussy” and a “gook,” and still make you laugh about it and respect him; that being Don Rickles. With his new movie Gran Torino, in which he both stars and directs, we can now add Clint Eastwood to the list.
Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean War veteran who in his words “just wants to be left alone.” But when his Hmong teenage neighbor tries to steal his prized muscle car on a gang initiation dare, Walt takes action. Action that sets in motion a chain of events which will bring him both new friends, and unavoidable circumstances with consequences even his tough guy persona may not be able to handle.
With his last offering Changeling not quite living up to it’s potential, Clint gets back to doing what he does best. That being crafting a powerful story, and expertly playing old and cranky. While we may have seen him in different versions of this character before, there’s something unique about the way he plays it. Kawolski spouts prejudice slang, ignorant retorts and has an old no nonsense way of doing things. However, Eastwood is smart and creates a character so realistically genuine that you can’t help laughing at all his grunts, sighs, and unapologetic blasphemy. I’ll have to go back and watch Unforgiven to be sure, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is his best performance to date.
Though hard to say where this film will sit in the pantheon of Eastwood cinema, it’s definitely worth its salt. While not quite as powerful as Mystic River, I found it as equally moving as Million Dollar Baby. The story which was written for the screen by Nick Schenk, tackles a lot of serious issues including Gang violence, human relations, and racial boundaries, but does so without ever seeming heavy handed. Not until the films final moments will the audience really know what to expect from the characters or just how much they are willing to sacrifice.
While I’m uncertain if we’ll will see it at the Oscars, it tough not to respect a story that pulls no punches and gives you an honest look at how decent morals and honest values still have a place in society. In that respect, Gran Torino is already a winner.