I'm not much of a Clint Eastwood fan. I'm sorry, but I'm not. I've never seen a Dirty Harry flick and though I did want to see The Flags of Iwo Jima, I just never really got around to it.
But Gran Torino showed me that Eastwood is one of the most beloved additions to cinema - as an actor, director, and screen writer. The film is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, the acting is at an apex, and it has a strong, thought-provoking message.
Set in Highland Park, a small city almost completely enveloped by Detroit, Gran Torino follows the life of Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), a recently widowed Korean war veteran set in his ways, his beliefs, and his prejudices.
Living alone for the first time, and dealing with his ungrateful children and grandchildren, Walt simply goes about his daily routines. Walt has been deeply prejudiced by his experiences in Asia during the war, and he barely tolerates the Hmong, the ethnic Chinese group who have slowly become the majority in his once Polish neighborhood.
When his teenage neighbor, Thao, tries to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino under pressure from his cousin's neighborhood gang, Walt agrees to the punishment proposed by Thao's mother - that he work for Walt. Over the course of a few weeks, Walt grows increasingly fond of Thao, and he becomes a father-figure to him. This relationship becomes crucial to Thao's future.
This is just as much a coming-of-age tale as it is one of overcoming prejudice. Thao and his older sister, Sue, trying to avoid the pull of the gang life surrounding them, struggle every day to push for enlightened existences.
Eastwood is amazing, and his scenes with the young parish priest are simply some of the best in the entire movie. The dialogue between them explores redemption and forgiveness, and Walt learns just as much from Father Janovich as he manages to teach in return. Father Janovich refuses to accept Walt's attitude and pushes him to a breaking point. It's a good thing.
Clint Eastwood is such a badass. Unlike Morgan Freeman's character in that horrible movie, Wanted (Sweet LORD, it was SO. BAD.), you never once doubt his commitment to the character, the script, or the overall feel of the film. He is so convincing, you absolutely forget that he is Clint Eastwood.
Both sets of my dad's grandparents grew up on the East side of Detroit. Those neighborhoods really have gone through similar transitions as Walt's. Once predominantly Polish, the large duplexes have undergone transformations and now boast a large Latino population. Change is imperative to a city's survival and growth, and I can only hope that Detroit eventually returns to the thriving city it once was.
Gran Torino is about this change, but also about acceptance and deliverance. It's excellent.