Maintaining an Active Lifestyle for Seniors
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang
Clint Eastwood must be full of regrets. After five decades in film, the towering American icon seems resigned to play the role of a man whose best days are behind him. Estranged from his children and his church, Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is a former fighter in need of something to fight for—essentially reconstructing the same character he inhabited in his previous film Million Dollar Baby.
After the passing of his wife, Korean War vet Walt Kowalski is left with no caretaker, two grown man-children, several inessential grandchildren, and a golden retriever who, to be frank, seems rather indifferent towards him. When he is not on his porch pounding down Pabst Blue Ribbon and chewing tabacky, Kowalski bides his time by fastidiously maintaining the appearance of his home in an otherwise run-down Detroit neighborhood. His only joy in life is his immaculate 1972 Gran Torino which he himself built while working in the Ford factory.
While sitting on his porch and muttering racial epithets at the various immigrant communities that have moved into his melting pot of a neighborhood and reminiscing about the way things use to be, a family of Hmong immigrants from Laos move in next door. Kowalski, having fought in the Korean War, is none too pleased about this. He is even less pleased when sheepish teenage neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) is forced by the local Hmong gang to steal his beloved Gran Torino. In hamfisted fashion, Walt races for his government-issue M-1 rifle as the soundtrack blares a military snare roll. Inside the garage, Walt corners Thao, but as though there had been a banana peel placed by divine intervention (or plot necessity), Walt slips onto the floor and Thao beats a hasty retreat.
The next night, the dastardly Hmong gang returns to force Thao to finish the job. Having just escaped with his life, Thao would sooner tend to his family’s garden than boost cars. A skirmish ensues and spills onto Kowalski’s lawn. A snare roll ensues. Kowalski points his M-1 squarely at the gang members and commands them to, per the trailer, “Get off my lawn!” Surprisingly, the gang complies and Walt becomes, much to his consternation, a neighborhood hero. Begin forced interaction between racially-insensitive curmudgeon and the local immigrant population. Thao’s family forces Thao to work for Walt as reparations for attempting to steal the Gran Torino (apparently uttering the phrase, “It would be great insult to our people if you refused” can thaw the heart of even the most vitriolic of racists). Over the course of a righteous yard work montage, the two form a co-dependent relationship based on Walt’s alienation from his sons and Thao’s lack of a father figure. However, threats of retaliation from the Hmong gang looms large over this newfound sense of racial harmony. A snare roll will ensue.
Throughout this film Clint Eastwood does what he always does: he plays Clint Eastwood. Teeth clenching, eyes squinting, fist forming Clint Eastwood. And to that extent, he succeeds remarkably well. Even as a septuagenarian, Eastwood’s presence is as menacing as ever—providing wish fulfillment for any geriatric who dreamt of beating the Hell out of kids these days. However, if one were to remove the racial slurs and annoyed grunts, Eastwood would have had to pantomime most of the film. Furthermore, the racism in the film serves as little more than a personality quirk of a cantankerous old man and certainly never attempts to address the problem of racism in America. By the midpoint of the film, Thao finds Kowalski’s racial tirades endearing–although this sense of endearment on the part of Thao could be the result of Bee Vang’s inability to act beyond the level of a high school theater production. With Vang’s character being the catalyst for Eastwood’s transformation, it is unfortunate that his range as an actor is limited to a downward gaze, head askew, with lips pouted subserviently.
Despite these limitations that never allow the film to fully realize the potential of its premise, Eastwood has created an entertaining film. In what is purportedly his last onscreen performance, Eastwood’s stellar performance is a fitting bookend to an illustrious acting career. Like Kowalski, Eastwood has come into retirement with guns blazing—and for that, he should have no regrets.