Published Dec 18, 2008As he gets older, Clint Eastwood gets more and more Clint Eastwood-ish. His trademark low-pitched voice has evolved into a harsh, raspy growl that sounds like an old car engine whenever he mutters something under his breath.
Eastwood is 78 and looks older but when his leathery, wrinkly frame approaches a gang of tough young hoodlums in Gran Torino and says, "Ever notice you sometimes run into someone you shouldn't have fucked with?," he still looks like he means business. Clint is one tough senior.
Gran Torino is a more bare bones, intimate film than Changeling (Eastwood's other 2008 release). It's also more flawed but, oddly enough, more interesting. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a bitter, xenophobic war veteran whose wife has just died and whose other family members are alienated and disrespectful.
Walt's empty life is reduced to grumbling about the growing Chinese population in his neighbourhood - he unleashes more ethnic slurs than just about any other film character this year - but soon finds himself falling into a reluctant friendship with the Hmong Chinese family that has moved in next door. Alas, the youngest member of the family, Thao, is terrorized by a local Chinese gang, led by Thao's wayward cousin, and as Walt becomes closer to his neighbouring family, the temptation to take the law into his hands becomes greater.
Eastwood isn't a subtle filmmaker but he knows how to push the right buttons. The scenes following Walt and Thao's relationship are pleasantly mellow and unrushed, and the last 30 minutes are elegant, suspenseful and surprising.
Gran Torino is most intriguing as a meditation on the iconic "Clint Eastwood character." Make no mistake: Walt Kowalski is the same grizzled, no-nonsense man we saw in Dirty Harry and A Fistful of Dollars grown into a weary old man in a crumbling Michigan suburb. It's fascinating to see Eastwood take his iconic screen persona and subvert it into a haunted senior citizen, and the scenes in which Eastwood kicks gangbanger ass are uncomfortably revealing.
Eastwood has hinted that this will be his last acting job. That's just as well: with Gran Torino, he (maybe unintentionally) deconstructs his persona so thoroughly that perhaps he has taken it to the limit. (Warner)