Gran Torino. Directed by Clint Eastwood, 2008. Out now on DVD.
Clint Eastwood, one of the great Hollywood legends of the late twentieth century, is comfortably maturing into his new role behind the camera, having been involved with a string of successful pictures including "Million Dollar Baby" and his twin WWII films, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters of Iwo Jima." His directorial follow-up to "Changeling," the 1930s mystery drama starring Angelina Jolie, shares some of the noirish tones of that film, but couldn't be more different.
Even at the grand old age of seventy-eight at the time of this film's release, Eastwood proves there's mettle in his acting boots yet. He takes star billing in this contemporary urban tale as Walt, a cantankerous and bigoted Korean War veteran overcoming the loss of his cherished wife, which leads him to retreat further still from the family he's already isolated himself from. After his treasured 1970s Gran Torino car is the unwilling participant in a foiled carjacking, however, he soon comes to befriend the somewhat idiotic teenager responsible, Hmong neighbour Thao, who tried to steal the vehicle in an attempt to ally himself with his cousin and his fellow gangbangers. Thao and his college student sister Sue introduce Walt to his family, and gradually Walt learns of their plight at the hands of the gangbangers, culminating in a vow of revenge.
The supporting cast are well balanced and the film portrays the Hmongs largely sympathetically, but the picture belongs to Eastwood. In his last main acting role, he gives a sterling performance, skilfully revealing a witty and warmer side to the initially unagreeable Walt as he tries to provide the role model for Thao that he never gave to his own sons. However, it is in these portions that the film sags, following the pair of them as the younger begins to integrate himself positively into wider society, and the script loses momentum as a result. When conflict eventually does return, there is no denying the film's power as it races towards an emotionally-charged finale. It may fall a little short of the masterpiece that is "Million Dollar Baby," but "Gran Torino" manages to score an equally provocative note in its final moments.
My verdict: ****/5