Gran Torino Review
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For the last few years, screen legend Clint Eastwood has chosen to remain behind the camera, directing films that tend to get a lot of buzz this time of year, when people start handing out awards. But while everyone was anticipating the release of Eastwood’s latest Oscar-buzzed drama, Angelina Jolie’s Changeling, another Eastwood film popped up on the winter release schedule—without any fanfare or long press releases. It was just a tiny blip on the radar, but it quickly caught my attention—because not only was Eastwood directing Gran Torino; he was starring in it, too.

In what he claims is his last acting role, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean War vet and retired auto worker who suddenly finds himself alone in an unfamiliar world. As he sits on his front porch, drinking Pabst and grumbling to his old dog, he looks out on a neighborhood that’s been taken over by minorities and gangs—and it makes him mad.

When his meek Hmong neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang), attempts to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino to try to win the favor of a local gang, Kowalski is furious. But as Thao works off his debt to his ornery, racist neighbor, the two form an unlikely friendship. And when the neighborhood gang threatens to strike back at Thao’s family, Kowalski steps in to help.

Gran Torino is a simple film. It tells a simple story about a bitter old man and his attempt to find peace and make things right. It’s filled with first-timers and small-time actors, whose performances are often uncomfortably amateurish. Yet, despite its simplicity and its less-than-perfect performances, Gran Torino is also a riveting film that you won’t soon forget.

It’s no real surprise that Eastwood is absolutely brilliant in his starring role—since Kowalski is basically the old, retired version of every iconic character that Eastwood has played throughout his career. Kowalski is an old cowboy who’s still riding his old, faithful horse through streets that are now lined with cars. He’s a retired Dirty Harry who finds himself living in a neighborhood that’s full of the foreigners that he’s always hated. He’s a tough old guy who chews tobacco and communicates in grunts and snarls—with a bunch of racial slurs thrown in for good measure.

During his most cantankerous moments, Kowalski is a comic character—sneering at his granddaughter’s wardrobe, grumbling about his son’s foreign-made SUV, aiming his rifle at trespassing neighbors. But there’s more to Kowalski than his awkwardly amusing bad temper. He’s also bitter and lonely, and he’s struggling to come to terms with the things he’s seen and done throughout his life. And though he doesn’t say much, Eastwood manages to make every last bit of emotion and regret come through loud and clear.

Though Gran Torino isn’t without its share of flaws, they’re quickly forgotten (and forgiven) as Eastwood steps out with guns a-blazin’ to deliver one of the most powerful performances of his career. I can only hope that the 78-year-old star will change his mind about giving up acting—but, if not, he’s certainly going out in a blaze of glory.

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