The lighter side of badass



The last thing you’ll learn from Gran Torino is that Clint Eastwood is not a good singer. But on your way to this less-than-stunning revelation you’ll learn many more pleasurable lessons. You’ll find out that even at the age of 78, Eastwood is still an uncompromising badass. You’ll also see that age has brought even deeper introspection and a good deal more humor than he typically puts on display.

Gran Torino is not a comedy. Yet for the majority of the movie I was laughing. The plot centers on a crotchety, stubborn, conservative racist whose good old white neighbors have all fled an incursion of Hmong immigrants. At the start, we see him as his children, grandchildren, and neighbors see him: as a bastard. But he quickly reveals that the old donkey is in fact quite smart, quick with a joke, and shockingly not petty—he befriends the teenager who tries to steal his beloved classic car. While many of the movie’s jokes are at the expense of Eastwood’s character, Walt, at least half feature him as the comedian.

If you believe psychologists who say that the most open-minded of us are implicitly racist, then Walt is the outlier. He’s quite vocal in his disdain for the Hmong, and the Irish, Italians, and African Americans. Yet in action he is perfectly even-handed, even if that means evenly cold. Eastwood’s performance is nuanced, funny, and graceful, making you smile with admiration even in some of the movie’s saddest moments.

He’s supported by an excellent cast that convincingly portrays the situation of a struggling immigrant family, but also the heterogeneity of its members: a kind-hearted know-it-all girl (Ahney Her), a shy loner in need of a father (Bee Vang), and a traditional Hmong grandmother as crotchety (and funny in her own way) as Walt, played by Chee Thao. The innocence of these characters inevitably warms Walt as much as it does the audience. Inevitably, the tale turns dark. The question then becomes whether Walt’s lack of innocence is enough to tear the fabric of their family and the audience’s psyche completely to pieces, or whether we get to escape with a scrap of hope in the end.


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