Clint Eastwood last appeared in a lead role in his Oscar winning film Million Dollar Baby five years ago.
In his comeback, Eastwood returns in Gran Torino alongside a cast made largely of Hmong people.
Gran Torino, a Malpaso production written by Nick Schenk, is two hours of engaging cinema from the moment it begins and Eastwood is back to his ‘Harry Callahan best’ as the retired Ford worker Walt Kowalski.
A beautifully made film, Eastwood has complete control of the screen presence in a master performance as well as taking up directing duties and producing the production.
And it doesn’t just stop there either. He has also written the film’s title song for the end credits, performed by Jamie Cullum, and his family get in on the act with his eldest son Kylie providing the music score and his youngest, Scott, appearing in the film as Trey – the boyfriend to the young Hmong girl Sue – who Eastwood’s character rescues from taking a beating from a gang in the neighbourhood.
Sue (Aheny Her) and her grandma (Chee Thao) are brilliant at getting beneath the skin of Walt and manipulate him into opening up his mind to the audience.
Walt Kowalski has lost his wife Dorothy who ordered Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) to keep a watch over him. But, more importantly, her lasting wish was for him to get Walt to make a confession.
He is a veteran of the Korean War who likes keeping his M-1 rifle and 1973 classic Gran Torino in mint condition. He is fed up with his run down Midwest neighbourhood, enjoys his routine visits and banter with his barber Martin (John Carroll Lynch), and his drinking buddies, but is still at war.
He is at war with Hmong people from the Southeast Asia countries Laos, Thailand, and China. He is at war with the Hmong, Latino and Afro-American gangs.
His only companion and friend he thinks he has is his labrador Daisy. Not even his remaining family want to know.
Until, however, he is introduced properly to his neighbour’s young son Thao (Bee Vang), who is Sue’s younger brother and is being bullied by his gang member cousin.
The interaction between Thao and Walt is at first cagey as the young boy has tried to steel his Gran Torino. Eastwood and Vang are really absorbing on screen and they play the roles like a father and son relationship. Walt wants him to become more of a man and even helps him on confidence in meeting girls.
Thao, in return, helps Walt to iron out his concerns, following some persistence from his mother who tells Walt he should work for him as a punishment for his wrong doings.
Eastwood soon shows affection from his character and in Vang’s performance you sense a real bonding and admiration for Eastwood’s character.
A horrendous event occurs leaving Eastwood with choices to make. The action builds towards a small surprise at the end, although somewhat predictable.
At 79, the clock may be ticking – as it does with his latest cinema character – but Eastwood for me has provided a thoughtful and intelligent film which cuts through modern day concerns on gender, class, race, and communities.
Gran Torino also brings to the surface issues relating to life, death and society diversion. It questions why we live in a territory existence, how identity can often be mistaken and arguments on how people can often be misconceived.
There are not many faults with this film, but my only argument would be the minimal use of the excellent Northern Irish actress Geraldine Hughes, who plays Walt’s daughter-in-law Karen.