Eastwood: Gran Torino

It was announced towards the end of 2011 that Eastwood would again return to acting. Up until this point it was assumed that Gran Torino would be Eastwood’s acting swan song, and if so, he was going out on a high. And does it fetch coincidence that this is also his highest grossing film to date in his career?

That’s right folks – word must have spread like wildfire that this could have been the last time you could see Eastwood on screen in a new film. So people flocked to the screens to see it making it by far the biggest hit of his career. I like to think that this is the public and fans saying thank you to a man who has delivered icon upon icon to us on screen. Very few actors have such iconic roles under their belt. Harrison Ford needs to take note!

Eastwood’s films either get by or flop at the box office. He has had occasional big bits. But none come close to the kind of money this one took at the box office. And it’s almost a mystery to why the American public suddenly took such a great interest in seeing him. Perhaps it was clear that this could be one of the last chances they would get to see him on the big screen, and that he was returning to his roots in character, or that it just had a truly awesome poster with the titular car in the background of a shotgun wielding, pissed looking, Eastwood in the foreground.

Gran Torino itself is not a huge film. It’s fairly static in its locations, and has an independent feel about it. We Find Eastwood playing Walt, a retired ex-forces type who did a list of things that William Munny would have trouble keeping count of. Walt recently lost his wife. His children (all grown up) are all looking out for his interests in that “can we pop you in a home and take your money now” kind of loving way. His grandchildren are even worse. Walt also lives next door to an Asian family – who he is only too happy to sling abuse at whenever he gets the chance. That is until one of then tries to boost his titular automobile.

Really by the midpoint of the film it becomes largely unpredictable in the direction it could go.  Will he be spending more time with the nice young girl from next door, or her younger troubled brother. The film flips from one to the other. And once he is on that path guiding the young lad on his journey the film finds its focus being that of the threat of gang violence. Before it could merely have been just the threat of Walt’s own prejudice against his neighbours. And depending on which film you want to see, it’ll have an impact on your viewing pleasure.

I was quite happy to kick back and watch a bit of drama between families, but the narrative had other plans.  I don’t mind that it goes this way; except that perhaps I do wonder why a gang would put so much pressure on such a young kid so often. Shouldn’t they be too busy hanging out elsewhere doing other stuff? They must be the most bored gang on the planet with little to do with their time.

Now Clint seems to get away with murder in his films. Here he is playing a grizzled, angry and, blatantly, racist old codger. Racism isn’t anything new to Eastwood’s films though. There have always been strong themes and even throw away puns – and often coming from the mouths of characters he has played. Don’t get me started on sexism either. Eastwood’s cad like behaviour towards the ladies has also been recurrent from his early to more recent work. He’s even battered a few in his time on screen. Hell, he hit one woman so hard she fell off a cliff!

And yet he has never really come under any strong attack from his audiences. You’d think the world would be alight with this sort of content – recurrent Content – in his films. But clearly the audience is wise enough to see that he is never portraying these things are good. But then, often, he never portrays them as evil. Clint plays these characters closer to real life. We accept his behaviour as we know he is not playing “Mr. Perfect”. And this is what makes Gran Torino all the more special as he seems to have scooped up the remnants of these flaws in characters he has played and put them all into this performance. It’s almost like a farewell performance to what made him so special to us fans. If this were to be the final performance on screen then it would have been a fitting farewell as he brings the “Eastwood” persona full circle.

Just watching this man find final redemption, a close connection and even a few laughs along the way (watching Walt try to mingle at the neighbours party is nothing sort of special) is what makes the film work so well.

The chuckles also come in the form of the young minister who is determined to get through to Walt. The height of this (being the joke) is that when he finally does, Walt’s confession is short with a few minor points – much to the Minister’s surprise.

The gang related element is the weak point, but at least it delivers us a strong finale for his character, going out in a blaze of glory for a very noble cause.

This is my last retrospective on this truly wonderful man. Clint started his career with a great look, having an effect on the ladies, coming over with charm, sophistication and all round general coolness about him. And today literally all of that remains intact. His career has had its ups and downs, but the ups are clearly signposted in various genres. Clint Eastwood will leave behind a grand legacy and impressive canon of work.

He is an example to young filmmakers, and a beacon of light for older generations of film-makers that you can still make some of your best work even past retirement. And yes… he continues to work. Clint was always in the top 10 of popularity in the 70’s and 80’s heyday – and for me he still is.

Steven Hurst

Share this!