Clint was able to avoid that mistake by making sure he had the proper amount of control of the project, as once again his steady hand and creative eye as a director makes the story "Gran Torino" pop off the screen as a testament to the Icon that is Clint Eastwood. He doesn't try to go out as some kind of larger than life hero; but by taking the lower-keyed route, his character of Walt Kowalski in the end does become that mythic champion, and one that I think will end up being mentioned in the same sentences as Josey Wales, Dirty Harry Callahan, or Bill Munny when it comes to his most memorable roles.
The setting of the movie itself should be sadly familiar to the people of northern Ohio, even if it is set in Detroit. The old neighborhood Walt lived in for over forty years has fallen apart, and the dreaded "white flight" has caused most of the people there to flee the area, abandoning the town in the same manner as the manufacturing base that used to provide the lifeblood of thriving mid-western cities.
All of his other old neighbors may have moved, but Walt stubbornly remains. Change does not come easily to him, and if he had his way, it would not come at all. As the movie starts, Walt is having to endure his own family that he views in contempt as they attend the funeral of his sainted wife. Nothing pleases Walt; not his suburb living yuppie sons, not their self-centered wives, not his spoiled grandchildren, and certainly not the 27 year old priest who attempts to bond with Walt; trying to fulfill a promise to the recently departed Mrs. Kowalski and get Walt to attend church, and to give a confession.
If Walt holds anything in more contempt than his family and priest, it is the new neighbors who have taken up residence in the decrepit houses next to Walt's still pristine brick bungalow. For the most part, the old neighborhood has been transformed as a community for Hmong refugees. Most of these people seem decent enough, but to Walt, a Korean War veteran, they are nothing more than a bunch of racial epithets that I prefer not to use in my own writing...but you should easily be able to guess them.
But even Walt knows that some of the Asians there are much worse than others, as gang activity is prevalent throughout the neighborhood. This is where Walt gets drug into something that he didn't want. Days after Walt stopped his teenaged next-door neighbor Thao from stealing Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino as a gang initiation rite that the boy was reluctantly forced to perform, Walt breaks up a fight next door as five gang members attempt to haul Thao away. When the fracas, led by Thao's feisty sister Sue spills over into Walt's yard, he points a shotgun at them to break it up, uttering the words that have almost become a cliché of angry old coots, "get OFF my lawn!"
Overnight, Walt is a hero to the Hmong community, as the entire neighborhood insists on continually leaving gifts on his porch (which Walt immediately trashes). But a few days later, he once again steps in and saves Sue from some African-American delinquents harassing her. Sue is as smart as she is feisty, and she refuses to be intimidated or offended by Walt's bigoted remarks and gruff exterior. Gradually, she starts breaking through the cracks in his armor, but it's done very slowly, and not in the way you would predict.
Bee Vang as Thao and Ahney Her as Sue do not have any previous motion picture experience, but you could never tell it from their performances. Neither are so precocious that they make the movie unrealistic, and both handle extremely tense scenes with as much aplomb as they do with the lightly comic ones. Particularly, the scenes with Thao as Walt tries to educate him about the real world are affirmations of Eastwood's skill as a director.
As good as the supporting cast is, this movie is still all about Clint, and the character of Walt is as compelling and complex as any we've seen. I went into this film expecting to see Dirty Harry with a walker, and my preconception was almost 100% wrong. Walt is the kind of person I think most of us with ties to the Rust Belt would know. A man from a different time who went to war and saw its terrible results, and then came back home to get married, raise a family, and work in a steel or automotive plant for thirty years.
If I were to walk into any local watering hole in places like Youngstown or Mansfield, or in the shadow of large Cleveland manufacturing plants still semi-operating at a fraction of their 1950s heydays, I guarantee you I'd find two or three Walts. Proud, stoic, hard-working, and very suspicious of outsiders; be they of a different color, different age, or just a different background. Eastwood the director shows Walt with all of his faults, which makes the character even more special to us when we get to see the full spectrum of the man, and the reasons behind the actions.
This is not a "can't we all just get along" film, despite the plotline. Yes, the main point of the story is seeing Walt evolve a bit...but did Walt really evolve that much, or did the circumstances that confronted him simply cause him to show everyone another side of him that always existed, but were just lacking someone truly worthy of seeing it?
When I look back at this film, I see a script that was often obvious in the directions it was taking, and some peripheral characters that were every bit of the stereotypes that Walt was usually railing against. It is therefore once again a tribute to Eastwood, Bee Vang, and Ahney Her that where it really counted, we get to see unique characters and strong performances in a movie that will be a perfect closing piece on the acting career of a Legend, and in my opinion, is worthy of another Oscar nomination as Best Actor.
My Rating - Brian Sipe (3 ½ footballs). I almost wish I had a 3 ¾ rating, as this is a better movie than most that get the Brian Sipe award...but the simplistic and semi-predictable plot prohibits me from bestowing it with a 4 football Bernie Kosar rating.
Get DirectSatTV to follow your favorite Cavs action.