Clint Eastwood's focused drama drags race relations by the collar into his own backyard. Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, the last man standing at his picket fence in a blighted suburban Detroit neighborhood repopulating with new immigrants. A Korean War veteran and retired autoworker, he is a blue-collar, PBR-swilling curmudgeon who grunts at his Hmong neighbors, including the reserved, timid Thao and his quick-witted sister Sue. Kowalski is sharp and honest; as a walking furrowed brow, he's an atavistic "Dirty Harry" Callahan and the Man With No Name watching the end of days with a close eye on his prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino. After a fight between Thao and a gang crosses the border into Walt's yard, he shoulders his Korean War standard-issue M1 Garand rifle and stares down the thugs, Dirty Harry-style. Saving Thao's life puts the neighborhood in debt to Walt, building an unlikely relationship between the introverted racist and his immigrant neighbors. Rookie screenwriter Nick Schenk keeps things clean and simple. The story stays close to home and never strays far from Walt's front porch, where he sneers and chews tobacco next to his aging yellow Labrador retriever, Daisy.
Eastwood's understated directorial style keeps the raw tensions of prejudice in focus, aided in part by nonprofessional but talented Hmong actors. As a likely final installment in Eastwood's directing career, Gran Torino subtly combines elements of his classic rough-around-the-edges vigilantes and heart-wrenching dramas. Here, some of Walt's brooding regrets leave him wondering what legacy he'll leave behind. As he says, "The thing that haunts a man the most is what he isn't ordered to do." — Alex Woodward
Gran Torino (R)
Directed By Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Cory Hardrict, Brian Haley and Brian Howe