I hope Clint Eastwood never stars in another movie. “Capstone” to a career is not a fair depiction of the credits due his name for Gran Torino. For a man whose signature ideal throughout most of his film career has been justice, individual sacrifice to attain rightfulness is the ultimate exclamation point. It has been a long time since I have been so smitten by a film or its lead’s performance. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), his Ford truck, Michigan factory neighborhood, and his American pride are not what they seem. Like all of us, there is more to us than meets the eye.
I have heard and read the negative responses to Gran Torino. They are all wrong. Some have ridiculed the cast for its immaturity; newcomers who have no acting experience. Balderdash. Who better to play everyday people than everyday people? Others are concerned that racial epithets spill into every scene. Like those who want to quarantine Huckleberry Finn I have only one response: if you have no concerns over “Jesus” being a profanity in every scene, chill out. Every racial group jilts every other, rather than a categorical repudiation of one specific ethnicity. Still more do not like even the hint of vengeance: weapons are no answer to violence. My response: y’all need to leave your gated communities. And then there are those who think this a heavy handed sermon. Those who think they are being preached to have not been reading The New York Times or The Washington Post who believe the last six months of White House press releases are to be taken as real news coverage. I can’t help but think that Clint’s Libertarian political views rise closer to the surface in this movie based on these baseless attacks. The fact that the freedom-loving, America-honoring Hmong People are chosen as his character’s foils speaks volumes.
There are no frills, only straightforward storytelling in Gran Torino. In some senses the facial snarl says it all. Here is a man who has lived a long life, has deep regrets (not the ones we think, either), and bears the emotional scars of real battles. He is impudent, unnervingly angry, and believes everyone else beneath him. By movie’s end everyone believes that “crusty” was only a thin veneer. This “hero” story has been told a hundred times before and we cannot take our eyes off the screen. A well told tale will be vindicated by open wallets. Gran Torino grossed $150 million in theatres.
What pleases me about Gran Torino is the “enveloping” of the story: the end goes back to the beginning. The Church and Clint’s antipathy toward it drive the tale. If one looks closely at the body of Eastwood’s work, there is sensitivity toward Christianity that should not be missed. The verbal jousting between newly minted priest and uncooperative antagonist creates lesson after lesson. Clint’s symbolic gesture in the climactic scene is a sober moment considering Eastwood’s past movie pedigree. Dirty Harry, William Munny (Unforgiven), and Frankie Dunn (Million Dollar Baby) share their sense of justice with Walt Kowalski. But as Walt says, “nothing’s fair.” We need to learn that getting justice may only be won by giving ourselves.
Rated R for constant racial epithets, pervasive profanity, and violence.
Mark Eckel has been a Clint Eastwood fan since Dirty Harry.