There are few Hollywood stars who last into their 70s but Clint Eastwood’s still going strong and both stars and directs this fascinating melodrama. On the face of it the film’s a culture clash between Eastwood’s racist old man and the Humong (SE Asian ‘hill people’) who live next door but Eastwood’s persona makes the film (almost) a treatise on violence in Hollywood over the last 40 years. In Unforgiven (1992) Eastwood revisited his ‘Spaghetti’ western films; Gran Torino takes in his Dirty Harry persona, his fascist cop of the 1980s.
SPOILERS: there’s an inevitable trajectory in the film that will lead to Eastwood in ‘avenging angel’ mode however, while Unforgiven ended in a welter of violence (suggesting the dark heart of America’s need to ‘regenerate through violence’), in Gran Torino Eastwood’s character sacrifices himself. So not only is the racism of the right wing vigilante repudiated through the narrative’s development, the violence that has infused much of Eastwood’s films is also rejected.
The film’s full of many other pleasures – the scene where Humong women take delight in feeding the curmudgeon has a delightfully improvised feel – as well as a marvellous set of supporting performances. Eastwood’s direction is good, a simple tracking shot of his two sons in church at the beginning is sufficient to signify their relationship with thim, and the blue tinged cinematography is perfectly suited to the film.