Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Clint Eastwood stars as a Korean War veteran who faces off against a group of gang members who are terrorising his immigrant neighbours in Gran Torino. The film may mark Eastwood's final acting role.
Clint Eastwood stars as a Korean War veteran who faces off against a group of gang members who are terrorising his immigrant neighbours in Gran Torino. The film may mark Eastwood's final acting role.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Clint Eastwood stars as a Korean War veteran who faces off against a group of gang members who are terrorising his immigrant neighbours in Gran Torino. The film may mark Eastwood's final acting role.

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood turns his screen legend on its head in the poetic and powerful Gran Torino.

It doesn't quite have the same ring as "Go ahead, make my day!" but Clint Eastwood's new catchphrase, "Get off my lawn!", is just as significant. For it's the knockout audience-pleasing line, uttered twice by the 78-year-old screen legend from behind the barrel of a loaded rifle, in the moody character piece Gran Torino. As such it represents the latest, and perhaps last, adventure of Eastwood's urban tough-guy persona, one that began 28 years ago with Dirty Harry.

This time, however, it's all change. Eastwood is older, at times even frail. He wears his belt-line high above his waist. He walks in careful steps. He still grimaces the same way, still squints, and can still spit a mouthful of chalky sputum across his beloved lawn, in a fey echo of the Josey Wales he once was so long ago. Today, however, he is Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran and a racist misanthrope whose life is turned on its head when a family of Hmong immigrants (or "swamp rats" as he first describes them) move into the house next door, and ultimately tip the cultural balance of his ethnically diverse Michigan neighbourhood firmly away from him and his proud true blue American past.

Walt at first isn't happy about this. He spends a lot of time brooding, sneering at his neighbours and telling racist jokes with his buddies. But when a fight breaks out on the aforementioned lawn, between his new neighbours and the Hmong gang members who are terrorising their sweet young son Thao (Bee Vang), it's too much for Walt. The old reflexes are back, the Eastwood that we know and love springs into action and, locked and loaded, he faces down the baddies with typical quote-worthy Úlan: "We used to stack guys like you five feet high in Korea, use you for sand bags!"

Naturally, Walt becomes a neighbourhood hero, a guardian of sorts for the grateful Hmong. He even takes the teenage Thao under his wing, and teaches him the milestones of manhood. In one pleasingly throwaway scene, Walt brings Thao to his barbershop and demonstrates the art of masculine banter, complete with expletive-laden epithets. Naturally, the troublemakers don't retreat forever, and the movie expertly parallel's Walt's gradual softening and his deepening admiration for his neighbours with the growing sense that a violent face-off finale is inevitable and will ultimately define Walt for who and what he was.

This is, of course, not just about Walt. The real kick from Gran Torino is the way it toys with, twists and essentially inverts Eastwood's stony screen legend. Ever since his revisionist 1992 Oscar winner Unforgiven, Eastwood has seemed increasingly uncomfortable with his legacy as an unthinking bigot. His epic Second World War double-bill - Flags of our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima - sucked the heroism completely out of war. His Million Dollar Baby was, shockingly, a woman's boxing picture that advocated euthanasia. While his more recent movie, Changeling, depicted a lone woman's fight against the very institution, the police department, that once spawned his own heroes.

Gran Torino, directed by Eastwood too, is in this tradition. It sets Eastwood up as a familiar crowd-pleasing version of himself - he even gets to terrify two street punks with another trailer-friendly admonition: "Ever notice how you come across someone every once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? Well, that's me!" And yet, bit by bit, scene by scene, the movie, and its actor-director, delight in taking apart this same legend. Thus, the version of 1950s America that he clings to is shown to be worthless, as is his tight-lipped stoicism. The real test, though, is in the closing pay-off. For too often, even in Unforgiven, Eastwood has been happy to engage with revisionism for 90 minutes but then, in the last act, revert to an old-fashioned trigger-happy finale. In Gran Torino, however, Eastwood is exemplary in both purpose and execution. He ends the movie with a mildly twisty climax, confounding expectations (especially those of his diehard fans) and producing something far more poetic and dignified - and an ending that could be read as an apologia for his entire action-packed oeuvre.

Of course, it leaves little room for another Dirty Harry-esque adventure. But perhaps this is just as well. The actor, nearly 80, has hinted that this might be his last screen role. And if so, as a thoughtful meditation on how and why he once made his day, it will never be bettered.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National