The fact that this movie didn’t even get nominated for ANY Oscars just goes to show how messed up the Academy is. From the very beginning this picture grabs you and doesn’t let go. The dialogue here is absolutely incredible and makes what could be a slow movie absolutely incredible.
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalksi, a Korean War vet who has recently lost his wife. He’s an old school grumpy old man who quite frankly doesn’t like the way the world is going. He’s been living in “the neighborhood” for his entire life and he’s seen the landscape change right around him. He’s seen his home overrun by immigrants and he’s none too happy about it. Walt has racial slurs galore but they are the type that we tend to brush aside as being OK because the person saying them is “from that time” or “that’s they way they were brought up”. It doesn’t make it agreeable but there’s a cinematic reason for what the character says/does.
While driving home one afternoon Walt witnesses one of the neighborhood girls being harassed by a group of what Walt would consider “thugs”. He takes it upon himself to step in and save the girl. This begins a relationship that will last the rest of the movie which provides some touching and funny moment along the way.
I mentioned the dialogue earlier… it’s epic. If you’re not going to really pay attention to what the characters are saying you’re going to miss quite a bit of the brilliance of this movie. There are two scenes that come to mind. One is when Walt is teaching the neighborhood boy Thao (played by Bee Vang) how to “talk like a man”. As with everything Walt does he’s got his own way of going about things. Without spoiling it I’ll just say that an old Polish guy talking with an old Italian guy trying to teach a Hmong guy how to talk is just hilarious. The second bit that comes to mind is when the locals are trying to bring Walt gifts. He continually tells them that he doesn’t want it until an old woman comes to the door with a casserole dish. Walt says, “Is that that chicken and dumpling thing you brought yesterday… OK bring it in.” Doesn’t sound funny now but I promise you it’s priceless at this point in the movie after you’ve gotten to know and love Walt. Eastwood is superb in this role. For years I’ve been saying that Clint is finally showing his age. In Gran Torino it suites him perfectly.
I won’t spoil the ending of the film here but suffice to say it’s very satisfying. I wouldn’t call it a “happy” ending but it definitely delivers a satisfying end the to the tale. This is Eastwood’s best performance since Unforgiven bar none. He elicits a little Dirty Harry and a little Josey Wales while being true to the character of Walt. I’d strongly recommend Gran Torino.