(Clint Eastwood, US, 2008, 116 mins.)
"Why don't they buy American?"
-- Walt Kowalski on foreign-car buyers
"What are you peddling today, Padre?"
-- Walt Kowalski to his persistent priest
"Get off my lawn."
-- Walt Kowalski to everyone
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Clint Eastwood's retired auto worker Walt Kowalski scowls at everything, from his self-obsessed granddaughter to his Hmong neighbors. We've seen this expression before in the iconic films he made with Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, but similar stone-faced grimaces have flashed through his own movies, like The Unforgiven.
A Korean War vet grounded in Detroit, Walt doesn't have much to smile about; as
he sees it, the modern world with its soft men and cellphones has left him behind, but to everyone else, he's just a grumpy old man. Like Michelle Williams's loner in Wendy and Lucy, Walt has his dog, Daisy, and his car, a '72 Gran Torino. If he feels isolated from his offspring, his quiet teenager neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang), feel the same way about his gang-banger cousins, who talk him into stealing Walt's ride.
Thao's plan fails, but it puts him and Walt on a collision course with each other-
and their respective worlds. Soon, it's Walt, Thao, and Thao's outgoing sister, Sue (Ahney Her), against the "Hmong motherfuckers." Since this is an Eastwood picture, not everyone will get out of this western-in-the-'burbs alive, but while recent movies like Crash and Lakeview Terrace have posited pessimism about race relations in Amer-
ica, Gran Torino is both funnier and more optimistic. Then again, it's just as much about loneliness--a concept that knows no age, race, or geographical boundaries.
In anyone else's hands, it would all be a load of sentimental claptrap, and it comes damn close, but Eastwood knows where to draw the line. Well, except for the Golden Globe nominated tune ("Gran Torino") he croaks over the closing credits. Clint can act, direct, produce, compose, and play the piano, but he can't sing. Nonetheless,
he gets a free pass, because he's Clint Eastwood. And there is none other.
Gran Torino opens in Seattle on 1/16 (Wendy and Lucy, Kel-
ly Reichardt's follow-up to Old Joy, opens at the Varsity on 1/23).
Images from BeyondHollywood.com, Film Junk, and OutNow!
Addendum: For those who can't get enough of Eastwood's vocal
stylings, the Northwest Film Forum will be screening Joshua Logan's
musical Paint Your Wagon, co-starring Lee Marvin, from 3/13-19
as part of their year-long 69 series. For more information, click here.