Clint plays Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski, a retired longterm worker in the Ford factory. The film title refers to his beloved car, a Ford 1972 Gran Torino Sport (see right). By the way, Starsky’s ‘striped tomato’ from the TV series Starsky & Hutch was a 1974 model, and looked distinctly different with a much larger grill.
Since his wife died, Walt lives alone with his dog in a neighbourhood which has gradually been taken over by poor Asian families and is rife with gangs. The film opens at the funeral and Walt is getting visibly irritated by both the young priest’s eulogy, and his own family. He’s not close to his two sons and his grandchildren. A Hmong family has moved in next door, and their extended family and friends irritate Walt.
Among the Hmong family are teenagers Sue and Thao. Thao is under pressure from his cousin to join a gang – and they want him to steal Walt’s car as an initiation, but Walt interrupts the robbery. The gang return to give Thao another chance, and Walt sees them off his lawn with rifle to his shoulder. This act and subsequent other unplanned good deeds on Walt’s part, begin to thaw relations with his neighbours and he takes Thao under this wing. But you know it can’t last.
This is a film that has a serious message about families, tolerance, social injustice, gangs, and most importantly for Walt -the after-effects of war. It also has some absolutely cracking one-liners – and Clint gets all of them together with a steely glare and deep rumbling growl which he uses often to show his irritation and disapproval. His timing with the growl is immaculate and makes you guffaw every time. He also gets to do a Dirty Harry type speech several times which has you cheering.
It’s fabulous to see this curmudgeonly old man confronting his own personal demons and prejudices and overcoming them. This measured film has comedy, pathos, and plenty of sadness, yet was really uplifting. Clint delivers a truly brilliant performance both in front and behind the camera and really got the best out of his teenagers. Where was Oscar? This film should have been nominated for best actor and best director at least!