Gran Torino (2008)

Clint is back to make your day…

He may be approaching 80, but Clint Eastwood remains at the forefront of modern cinema. Far from causing a generational gap, Eastwood’s age, and the vast film industry experience that it represents, ensures he remains a significant, interesting and powerful cinematic force. This is proved not just by the fact that his recent real-life drama Changeling has been nominated for three Academy Awards, but also because his new movie Gran Torino is yet another astonishing piece of film-making.

As well as performing directorial duties, Eastwood takes the lead role of Walt Kowalski, a curmudgeonly Korean War veteran and – initially, at lease – deeply unlikeable old man. After the death of his wife he remains resolutely isolated, staked out on his front porch to protect his property from the tidal wave of corruption he sees drowning his increasingly multi-cultural neighbourhood, unable to interact even with his own sons. A great deal of his wrath is directed towards his neighbours, an immigrant South East Asian family whose efforts to be civil only enrage Walt further. But when young Thao (Vang) takes a dare to steal Walt’s prized 1972 Gran Torino, their lives collide in a way that neither could ever have imagined.

Walt is a growling, gun-toting pensioner, railing against a modern society he doesn’t understand and mourning a morality he believes is going to hell in a handcart. Indeed it is – intentionally – like watching Dirty Harry with a bus pass and a chip on his shoulder chiselled to the bone during the four decades since we last saw him. Yet, even though Eastwood’s own cinematic iconography can’t help but shine through, to see the film as a mere pastiche of his most famous creation is to do a disservice to a script constructed of subtle strokes of humour, social commentary and meditation on the human condition.

The supporting cast, including newcomer Bee Vang, are solid across the board, holding their own against a formidable co-star. But this is Eastwood’s film and, well aware that he is in the twilight of his career, he has chosen his first role since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby carefully and with purpose. He is an accomplished enough actor to be able to poke fun at his own image – there are scenes in which Walt’s snarling confrontations are played expertly for laughs – but yet his incredible career is celebrated with every line, every glare and every curl of the upper lip.

As Walt comes to realise that the worldhas changed and that, to survive, he must learn to embrace it, so we understand that – although Eastwood’s performance plays like a fond farewell – the legacy surrounding him and what he represents will always be of relevance. As a film, Gran Torino is powerful, moving and entertaining; as a tribute to a living legend, it’s deeply, indelibly affecting.

5 stars

Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley
Director Clint Eastwood
Screenplay Nick Schenk
Certificate 15
Distributor Warner Bros
Running Time 1hr 56mins
Opened February 27