It has become a common stereotype in film and television alike that elderly grandfathers all show disdain for today’s changing youth with the loud rap music and funky-colored hair.
Cranky old men whose voices resonate in VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) halls where the old war heroes talk about the “good old days.”
Enter Walt Kowalski played by America’s favorite glass eating, gun toting, I’m-Dirty-Harry Clint Eastwood. Kowalski is a retired Korean War hero widowed by both his beloved wife as well as his family, and he is seeing the Detroit suburb that he lives in gets infested with thugs, foreigners and gangbangers.
Every word he utters is a racial slur and even a “thank you,” rare for Kowalski, sounds like “piss off.”
When his neighbor’s son Thao (Bee Vang), is forced by his small-time gang-leader cousin to an attempted robbery of Kowalski’s prized 1972 Gran Torino, the crabby Kowalski reacts. Grabbing his military issued M1 Garand, he enters a battle that he did not expect.
The cold, stoic, enraged personality alludes to all of his previous true grit characters in his illustrious career, but Clint Eastwood shows something in this portrayal of Kowalski that we haven’t seen: compassion.
He befriends his Muong Vietnamese neighbors who are in desperate need of protection from the gang. Kowalski begins to become human again.
He allows emotion to seep through the veins of his wrinkled skin. The hard-lined vet who once saw only disappointment and degeneration in people suddenly finds himself needed.
He finds himself connected to people who believe in his moral code of responsibility and honor in his neighbors. Kowalski stopped at nothing to protect Thao and his family.
Yes, he becomes human emotionally; however in his gang garbage cleaning, Eastwood’s classic muscle flexes.
For instance, in one scene where Thao’s witty sister Sue (Ahney Her) gets accosted by some slum hoodlums, Eastwood glistens a Colt .45 and hoarsely whispers, “Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while that you shouldn’t have messed with? That’s me.” Classic.
The 1972 Gran Torino plays a small part physically in the film but it metaphorically represents a notion much bigger. It symbolizes the rising tide and the undulating sea of high points of a person’s life and its eventual recession into nostalgia and rarity.
This film, also directed by Eastwood, could be a story of his own life. His polished genius has stretched over a half century. From the wind-chapped face cowboy in Unforgiven to the take-no-prisoners cop Dirty Harry, Eastwood is an American icon.
Clint Eastwood’s tough bifocal perspective into generational conflict in Gran Torino sticks to its guns.