For his fourth directorial feature in the span of two years, Clint Eastwood tells the story of a grizzled Korean War vet's reluctant friendship with a Hmong teenage boy and his immigrant family. Set in contemporary Detroit, GRAN TORINO tackles the shifting cultural and economic landscape of not only the Motor City, but America as well.
Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, an unabashed bigot who never heard a racial insult he didn't love. Bitter, haunted, and full of pride, Walt refuses to abandon the neighborhood he's lived in for decades despite its changing demographics as he clings desperately to a mindset long since out of step with the times.
When his Hmong neighbor Thao tries to steal his prized muscle car as part of a gang initiation, Walt is forced to grapple with the world around him.
GRAN TORINO's approach to the complicated issue of race relations is equal parts Archie Bunker and CRASH. That is to say, there is nothing subtle about Walt's bigotry, yet his misanthropy knows no bounds, and Eastwood does a remarkable job of finding the humor in Walt's equal opportunity racism. More than simply a racial morality tale, however, GRAN TORINO is about the unlikely bonds that people form to navigate the subtle complexities everyday life.
Like MILLION DOLLAR BABY, GRAN TORINO explores the challenging yet rich new world that can open up when individuals let down their guard, even if for just a moment. Estranged from his family and his church, and without any sense of personal peace, Walt offers all that he has to Thao and his family, namely wisdom and protection.
When tragedy strikes the family, Eastwood allows a little classic Harry Callahan to poke through, but the surprising finale posits a hero that Dirty Harry would never have the guts to be.
It's a potent symbolic gesture to Eastwood's own growth as a storyteller.