JOHN CARROLL LYNCH
BROOKE CHIA THAO
Whether it be his wandering gunfighter from Fistful of Dollars; rule breaking cop Dirty Harry Callahan; or boxing trainer Frankie in Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood has portrayed a bevy characters who say what they mean, and do what they say. And it is a delight to still see the 78 year old man continue to play men of action, in the gritty yet touching, Gran Torino.
Here Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a cynical, racist, lapsed Polish Catholic, and Korean War Veteran, who Eastwood inhabits with his trademark granite grit and sneering growl.
The films opens at the funeral of Walt’s just departed wife, who was – by all accounts – the buffer between Walt and his middle class sons, and their punk kids, who attend the funeral with grid iron jerseys worn, and naval piercing on show.
Now on his own, Walt is content sitting on his porch alongside faithful dog Daisy, knocking back beers while still salivating over his 1940 Ford Gran Torino, which is as immaculate as the time he assembled and acquired it so many years ago off the production line.
Occasionally breaking his retirement slumber are visits by persistent young Catholic priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), who – after promising Walt’s late wife – tries to persuade Walt to attend confession. But Walt is not buying, often snapping back with authoritive, yet humorous, put downs.
Other times, the violence by the varied gangs which inhabit his once thriving working class suburb turned ghetto, will break the silence of the day. During one such occasion, Walt finds himself in the unexpected position of neighbourhood hero, after saving the life of a young Hmong American, Thao (Bee Vong), who has been targeted by a gang made up of Hmong teenagers.
From this incident, Walt strikes a friendship with his Hmong neighbours (a people from the mountains of Southeast Asia, targeted for execution by the Red Army, brought to the west by the Lutherans), especially Thao, who he proceeds to “man up” with old school values, not found among your typical Gen Y teenager.
From this mentor relationship comes many unexpected humorous encounters. An Hmong barbeque features Walt’s bigotry overcome by mouth watering food and polite cultural hospitality; while a lesson in locker room talk, given to a hilariously bewildered Thao, by Walt and his equally foul mouthed barber (John Carroll Lynch), earns a nomination for scene of the year.
Above all else, Gran Torino will be remembered for the sweetness and humour which Eastwood invests in his role. It is a pleasant surprise in a film which successfully runs the pendulum between touching moments and brutal violence. An unexpected conclusion will leave some viewers baffled, but ultimately feeling satisfied in its morally in tune direction.
All of this comes down to the stealer writing by Nick Schenk, who unfortunately was passed over for a best original screenplay nomination from every major awards body. It is an undeniable shame that his writing was not officially recognised. Yet there loss is the gain of those who watch this highly recommended film.