Dying Breed 

Clint Eastwood examines angry old manhood in what might be his last film role.

Walt Kowalski's wife has just died, his kids don't like him, and his grandkids are an embarrassment. Moving in next door are a bunch of foreigners. (They're Hmong, ethnic Asians, but I won't repeat what he calls them.) What he has left in life is his dog, his front porch, his cold beer, and his 1972 Gran Torino — a car he helped build when he was a Ford autoworker. He's also got a bloody cough, some demons from the Korean War still sticking to his guts, and a Catholic priest who won't stop pestering him about going to confession.

This is the setup for Gran Torino, and it looks like it's as sweet as life is going to get again for Walt (Clint Eastwood, who also directed). When the neighbors get into some trouble from a local Hmong gang, Walt has to step in, initially just to keep the kids off his lawn. He's a bitter man, furious at how weak and weird the world has become. (Note to Hollywood producers: If you have to make another Hulk movie, cast Eastwood.)

This is Eastwood's best film since Mystic River. Gran Torino feels like quality minor Eastwood the same way 1993's A Perfect World did. But both films are sneaky good, and they're both better than technical-driven prestige pics such as Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and (far) better than melodramatic claptrap with shades of brilliance such as Million Dollar Baby.

Eastwood has reigned as the most masculine American figure since John Wayne rode off into the sunset in 1979. Especially coming from him, Gran Torino, a film about what it means to be a man, is compelling stuff. The lovely middle of the film settles down into a father-son conversation between Walt and the bashful, emasculated kid next door, Thao (Bee Vang). You see, Walt is Dirty Harry with a heart of gold.

Gran Torino does for racism what the TV show Mad Men does for sexism — almost makes it an art form. Sometimes, you can only guffaw at the outrageousness of it. Walt speaks in an unending stream of racial invective, punctuated only by growls that give the subwoofers some exercise. At least Walt is an equal opportunity offender, laying into his friends just as assiduously. And such is the frequency that, by the end, you can tell when Walt means a word to be rude and when he means the same word to be a term of endearment.

The last act is a little tidy and can't quite live up to where it began, but the film survives the ordeal. Gran Torino is ultimately a fitting later-life entry in the Eastwood canon, worthy of the myth and even expanding it a little. Eastwood has hinted that it might be his last screen role. If so, it's note perfect. But personally, I don't think he's ready yet for the pasture.

Gran Torino

Opening Friday, January 9th

Multiple locations

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • 2018 Outflix Film Festival

      Memphis' Long Running LBGTQ Film Festival Stresses Community Outreach
    • Blue Citrus Hearts

      Indie Memphis celebrates 15 years of Morgan Jon Fox’s groundbreaking Blue Citrus Hearts
    • Crazy Rich Asians

      Director John Chu does rom com right

Blogs

News Blog

Cool Thing: Cycle and Drink Beers for Good Cause

News Blog

'Duct Tape' Stuck with 30 Years on Racketeering

Tiger Blue

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

News Blog

Officer-Involved Shooting Met with Anger, Questions

News Blog

Memphis Officials Partner with Gun Lobby

News Blog

FedEx Employees Indicted on Mail Theft

News Blog

DMC Calls for Artists to Enhance Downtown Alleys

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Greg Akers

Readers also liked…

  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • I Am Not Your Negro

    Raoul Peck’s documentary brings James Baldwin’s words to an America that needs to listen.
    • Feb 24, 2017
  • Isle Of Dogs

    Wes Anderson returns to animation with this charming fable.
    • Apr 15, 2018
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation