A Review of “Gran Torino” featuring Clint Eastwood

Premiere Gran Turino LA

The character that will be Clint Eastwood’s final role as an actor, Walt Kowalski, stands beside his wife’s coffin, facing the assembled mourners, in a Catholic church in Michigan.

A retired auto-worker, and veteran of the Korean war, he greets well-wishers with little more than a grunt, and a guttural growl in the case of his grand-daughter Ashley, who has arrived late, midriff exposed, and pierced navel proudly on display.

Walt has no time for fools, we quickly learn, and – he believes – he is surrounded by them.

Quite a few of the funeral-goers are back at his house for the wake, because, he says, “they must have heard there’d be plenty of ham”. As he steps outside for some air, he surveys the old neighbourhood, especially the house next-door, whose “gook” owners – that’s how he talks: he also calls them “zipper-heads”; he calls his Italian barber a “Guinea bastard”; and his Irish construction-foreman pal a “stupid Mick”  – don’t take pride in their property like he does.

Most of the street has been taken up by Hmong families (pronounced Mong) , and Walt is one of the few original residents to have stayed. He trades daily insults with the next-doors’ maternal grandmother, who is an almost permanent fixture on her front-verandah rocking-chair. (Neither one can understand the other’s words, but each knows full well their intent.)

While his grandsons are in the basement, sneaking a look at Walt’s war photos and Silver Star medal, he catches Ashley in the garage, smoking. She asks what he plans to do with his pride-and-joy – a mint-condition, British Racing Green, 1972 Ford El Torino – “when – you know – you die”. Walt doesn’t answer, and walks out in disgust. His two sons, and their wives, seem to have their eyes on a different prize: Walt’s house. (Later in the film, on his birthday, he unceremoniously kicks one of the couples out of his home, when they untactfully suggest he think about moving to a retirement village.)

The Hmong woman next-door – whose wayward husband has deserted her – has two teenaged children: the eldest a very bright girl, called Sue, and a quiet boy, a year or two younger, who is called on to do all kinds of domestic chores. His name is Thao (pronounced Tao) – Walt calls him Toad – and he is being pressured by a cousin to stop doing womens’ work, and join him in his street gang. He finally gives in to them, but only after they have rescued him from a rival Latino gang. He must now perform an initiation: his task is to steal Walt’s Gran Torino.

One night, soon after, Walt catches Thao in his garage. His war-service rifle discharges in the scuffle, and Thao bolts, terrified. The gang isn’t happy with his failure, and insists a reluctant Thao try again.

They arrive a couple of days later to drag him away, fighting off the three women of the house in the process. Walt Kowalski witnesses the commotion, and his instincts kick in.

He grabs his gun, and confronts the gang. “Get off my lawn!” He could be Dirty Harry Callaghan, saying ‘Go ahead, make my day’, except that Kowalski is the same age as Clint Eastwood: 78 years old.

Walt prevails in the stand-off, but you get the feeling things are just heating up.

The entire Hmong neighbourhood hears about what has happened, and there is a seemingly endless stream of them leaving food, flowers, and other thank-you gifts at Walt’s doorstep. “No. Go away. No more.” They ignore him, of course. Walt, however reluctantly, becomes father-figure to Tao, and protector of the entire community.

To tell any more would be to spoil the plot. The moral, or morals of the story – and make no mistake: this is a morality play – is that the American dream is alive and well; that Walt Kowalski is not racist, despite his un-PC language; and that he doesn’t hate anyone, except that part of himself responsible for certain actions in Korea – those that have haunted his soul ever since.

Like he tells Father Janovich, his wife’s priest, who made her a – so-far unsuccessful – promise to hear Walt’s confession:

“It’s not what you were ordered to do; it’s what you weren’t ordered to do.”


By Tony of South Yarra






10 Responses

  1. You mean there’s more to the plot! 😯

    Thanks, ToSY, The Minister and I suspected it may be Mr Eastwoods swan song, mores the pity…

    Reading your review I suspect there may be a few of us who post here could relate quite easily to, Walt!

    Looking forward to seeing it – although I suspect it maybe more suited to the 42″ Bravia, than using up our Gold Class tickets at the movies (a gift from my kids – too bloody expensive for us, these days!) 😉

  2. I see your Bravia 42″ and raise you a Pioneer Kuro 50″

    The storyline (thanks to ToSY excellent description) reminds me a bit of “Falling Down” which starred Michael Douglas.

    However I imagine Gran Torino will be streaks ahead due to Clint’s superior acting ability.

    Although I might save it for DVD – BLU-RAY I might add TB *cough* *cough*…

    We usually save the cinema for movies that are gonna have big special effects.

    And how much do they charge for a bottle of water and an ice cream these days at the movies !! Daylight bloody robbery..

  3. DVD – BLU RAY!

    Sacre bleu, mon a mi, trumped! 😥

    Agree re SFX…

    Currently considering a new Dell for editing the video off my HD camera – should I buy now or wait till later in the year when/IF prices should fall?…will have BD burner, duel graphics cards, duel 500Gb HDD, 4Gb memory, 24″ screen and very fast 2 Core Quad CPU – around $3800 plus a $350 Soundblaster X Fi Elite Pro sound card and break out box…excuse the dribble (oh! double entendre!) What oh! 😆

  4. Sounds like a very nice machine TB.

    Whether to buy now or wait? Depends who you want to believe; those that say the Aussie dollar is heading south to about 49 US cents or those that say it will settle around 65 US cents..

    I really don’t know….

  5. Maybe I should email Access Economics??

  6. Based on your most excellent review Tony I think it sounds like something I’d enjoy.
    I hold out hope that the ending you take care not to spoil involves Senorita Eastwood going postal & thinning out the neighbourhood with his service rifle!

    Being the owner of a sparkling new 106cm LCD & not so sparkling PS3 I can attest to the clarity of Bluray, on which I’ll wait for this.

  7. Toiletboss,

    He owns weapons other than his rifle, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

  8. Cool bananas!!!

    Savage butchery…

  9. OH yeah, I should clarify.

    I didn’t buy the LCD TV withs some of Pious Rudd’s Xmas handout. I got sweet FA, my other half works about 20hr’s a week.
    It’s times like that (the event horizon at which we realized that we weren’t gonna have an opulent feast on a single cent of our much earned middle class welfare that we are not entitled to, whilst the happily idle third of this town got a couple of grand [at the least] to go & mindlessly blast through the pokies) that we wonder if it’s even worth having two of us earning a crust…on a ratio of timespent@work vs value for money/quality of life.
    Luckily, for the greater (aging) herd we are both stoic & will always work, out of a collective sense of societal duty, so the monetary excrement of our labour will help to prop up the great life we all have due to our (requisite) tax burden.

  10. Reb

    Stealing my thunder! Welcome to the world of cine philes. I’m starting a new blog soon on silver screen matters. Posts welcome. Haven’t seen it yet but did watch Clint’s Iowa Jima double recently on DVD. Very good too. We’ve been hiding in Lamington National Park – another special place..

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