Racist, homophobic “Dirty Harry” Callahan has retired in Detroit. Sgt. Highway of Heartbreak Ridge might not wear his stripes, but he still keeps his rifle loaded. And William Munny, the haunted, aged gunfighter of Unforgiven, has one last shot at redemption.
It took Clint Eastwood's entire career to build Walt Kowalski, the tough and bitter old bigot whom the actor plays in Gran Torino.
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It's a film about race and tolerance and a culture clash that, if Walt is lucky, will end in a draw. That's the best the embattled old white retired autoworker can hope for in an America that's a lot more multicultural than it used to be.
Walt is a modern-day Archie Bunker. He has just buried his wife. He's not on good terms with his sons. But he's not leaving his corner of greater Detroit just because Latinos, blacks and now Asians have moved in and brought teen gang problems with them. Walt has a defiant chip on his shoulder and a vast catalog of racial slurs at his disposal, many of them acquired during his Korean War service. He's too happy to trot them out when a Hmong family moves in next door.
But Walt isn't blind. The gang wars mean that Hmong “cousins” want the boy next door as a recruit. The kid's initiation? Steal the old white man's prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino, a car Walt built on the line back when “muscle car” and “Detroit” weren't anachronisms.
But Walt foils this plan, and the boy's sister (Ahney Her, fresh and funny) shows up to insist that the boy has shamed the family. He owes Walt atonement, so she talks the old bigot and the Hmong punk, Thao, whom he calls “Toad” (Bee Vang), into a reluctant partnership.
Eastwood filmed this in a straightforward, old-school style, which suits the corny and too- predictable story. Walt warms to Toad too easily. But he teaches him how to be a man in America — how to use tools, fix stuff, get a job and blend in with the politically incorrect. The director makes amusing points about how thin-skinned the culture can be about race, when, in the right hands, “hate speech” is just a way of appreciating our differences, something a grown man can do without giving or taking offense. Walt's a “polack.” His barber's a “dago.” What's the big friggin' deal?
Gran Torino grinds through its gears in an efficient if generally graceless manner, with occasional blasts of violence interrupting a film that is content to be the cutest movie Clint has done since his days of co-starring with an orangutan. But it's an amiable and amusing sociology lesson, both for the people who can't get over the concept that a black man is soon to be their president and for the more P.C. folks who elected him.