Clint Eastwood, directs, produces and stars in what be his final work as an actor. He plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who has just been widowed. When we first meet him, he is standing bolt upright beside his wife’s coffin, channelling Harry Callaghan as he snarls at his grandchildren, who really couldn’t care less their grandmother is dead – his granddaughter pulls out her phone at the service. Shortly after, it becomes perfectly clear that Walt has just as much difficulty relating to his two sons as his grandchildren, muttering “Would it kill you to buy American?” as they drive off in their Toyota.
Alone, sitting on his porch, Walt laments that his neighbourhood is no longer filled with other working class Americans like him: “Why’d all these gooks have to move into the neighbourhood?” But when he accidentally becomes a hero to the Hmong people of the area by chasing away a local gang (“Get off my lawn” was never so menacing), Walt realises that he has more in common with these people than with his own family.
One of the singularly most impressive things about Gran Torino is sheer volume and variation of racial slurs that Walt manages to use: gooks, chinks, slopes, spooks, zipperhead – you name it, Walt uses it. These, combined with Eastwood’s impeccable delivery, are a sure-fire recipe for hilarity, bizarrely making what is a genuinely very touching film, also one of the funniest in recent memory.
Which leads us, naturally, to the real force behind Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood. Watching him hold up three black corner boys with nothing more than his hand pointed like a gun is one of the singularly funniest and most powerful scenes I have ever seen in a film – a very tiny part of your brain thinks that, somehow, Clint Eastwood could actually shoot you with his finger if he wanted to. Watching him spit bile at one of the gang members that hassle Thao as he pummels him in the face reminds you that Eastwood, when he wants to be, is still the most commanding man on screen.
Gran Torino, then, is a superb little film with a monumental performance from one of cinema’s finest actors. If it is to be Eastwood’s last hurrah as an actor, then what a hurrah it is. The ending may surprise you, or even sit a little funny in your mouth as the credits roll, but give it a little time and you’ll realise it’s the only way that makes sense. A.