Motor-Mouthed Geezer Befriends Troubled Teen in Motor City Melodrama
Recently-widowed Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) has a big set of gonads for a grizzled geezer who’s the last white guy still living in a Detroit ‘hood overrun with Asians, Latinos and blacks. After all, he’s in mourning and emotionally-estranged from his sons, Mitch (Brian Haley) and Steve (Brian Howe), who would like to relocate their dad to a retirement community.
Nonetheless, Walt wants to remain in the rapidly-changing, increasingly-lawless community. But rather than make the acquaintance of any of his neighbors, the gun-toting Korean War vet would rather roam around town like a geriatric Dirty Harry, daring troublemaking knuckleheads to make his day.
For he loves to talk trash, being especially fond of hurling expletives and ethnic slurs at members of every minority group.
He proves to be particularly imaginative when it comes to epithets for the Hmong family who moved in next-door, referring to them as everything from “gooks” to “zipperheads” to “rice niggers” to “chinks” to “nips” to “eggrolls” to “barbarians” to “fish heads” to “swamp rats” to “slope heads.” A friendly female (Ahney Her) invites him over in spite of all the insults, making a peace offering by saying, “I wish our father had been more like you.” Who knows why? Yet, the creepy bigot coarsely responds to the compliment with, “Get me another beer, dragon lady.”
Needless to say, Walt is utterly unlikable, at least until the fateful day that a budding juvenile delinquent (Bee Vang) tries to steal his Gran Torino muscle car as part of a gang initiation. Instead of shooting the thief with his trusty M-1 rifle when he catches him in the act, Walt decides to take pity on the kid after learning that the boy is in dire need of intervention.
Unfortunately, the transition Walt then makes from racist misanthrope into an altruistic father figure focused on his Asian-American protege as a pet reclamation project is simply unconvincing. That’s not good news for this Motor City melodrama, since it specifically relies upon the chemistry supposedly generated as a friendship is forged between the pair.
Gran Torino is recommended only if you want to see Clint Eastwood uttering a profusion of offensive and profane language, like a senile old coot suffering from adult onset Tourette’s Syndrome. Otherwise, this cross of 8-Mile and Death Wish looks terribly dated, like the desperate last gasp of pre-Obama Era intolerance.
Fair (1 star)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs and violence.
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers
Watch the Gran Torino trailer