It seems like every Clint Eastwood film (whether he acts in it or just directs) brings about Oscar buzz and nominations. I have come to learn that this talk is not just talk, but it is warranted. The man cannot seem to make a bad film. He has such a skill at telling a story it is incredible. Eastwood is a pure storyteller; he eliminates all the fat or unnecessary parts and gets to the heart of the matter. That is what makes his films so touching. Who among us was not moved by "Million Dollar Baby", "Mystic River" or "Changeling"? His style of filmmaking is minimalist, but doesn't leave you with the feeling that something is missing.
Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a grizzled Korean War veteran/retired auto worker who has just lost his wife. Retired and not close to his two adult sons, Mitch (Brian Haley – The Departed, Mars Attacks!) and Steve (Brian Howe – Evan Almighty, The Pursuit of Happyness), Walt spends his day drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and doing odd repairs around his house. His overt racism and disgust over the fact that the neighbourhood is now inhabited by Asians comes out even more without his wife around. The world is changing around him and Walt is not happy.
Walt's late wife's last wish was that he make a confession, but he stubbornly refuses to confess to the church's young pastor, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley – Lions for Lambs, Garden State), as he thinks of him as a "27-year-old over-educated virgin". So he continues talking solely to his dog Daisy and glaring over at his Hmong neighbours.
Thao (Bee Vang – first film) is a quiet teenage boy who lives next door with his mother, grandmother and sister, Sue (Ahney Her – first film). He is the lone male amongst the women and is totally dominated by them. A local Hmong (from Laos) gang is trying their best to recruit Thao and give him the initiation task of stealing Walt's beloved 1972 Gran Torino. Screwing that up and getting caught in the act, Thao's mother insists that he repay Walt by working for him.
Over the couple of weeks that Thao works for Walt doing odd jobs around the neighbourhood, they develop an unlikely friendship. Walt tries to teach Thao how to be a man and Thao teaches Walt that his racist ideas are crazy. Despite himself, Walt finds himself becoming closer to the family next door than his own. They soon become a family that he will defend with his life.
"Gran Torino" is another film from Eastwood that is not of the moment, but rather a timeless story. The power of this film will endure.
We get a chance to look at the familiar Eastwood themes of family, race and prejudice in a brutally honest way. There is a sense of truth behind everything he does even when it is not based on a 'true' story. We all know people like the characters he introduces us to; there is a sense of familiarity and relatability in his films.
He is also a brave filmmaker who will never take the easy way out. If there is a story to be told it will be told with all its warts exposed for everyone to see. He goes all the way to the end of a story…no matter how hard. Thankfully most of his tales start with a dark beginning and then show us the light inside even the hardest of people.
The characters in his films are allowed to be real and teach us through their actions without being preachy. Filming with plenty of intelligence and a soft touch, Eastwood allows us to make up our own minds about the characters in his films. We are never pushed one way or another. You never feel his directorial hand guiding you along to the conclusion he wants.
It is the type of film that will touch some greatly and have no effect on others. You will either make a connection with the story or characters or you won't. There is not pressure either way. It is all very organic.