In less than two weeks the first African American will be inaugurated into the White House. Barack Obama’s sweeping victory in November was a testament to how far this country has come in terms of its race relations. In today’s climate, a man like Walt Kowalski, the main character in Clint Eastwood’s new movie, “Gran Torino,” seems like an ancient relic and a reminder of how far this country has come.
Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who spent decades working on the Ford assembly line, is a product of his time. His vocabulary doesn’t include the phrase, “politically correct.” He lives in a rundown Detroit neighborhood that has been mostly taken over by Hmong, an Asian ethnic group from the mountain regions of southeast Asia. While his property remains pristine, the houses around him are crumbling. Walt’s prized possession is his 1972 Gran Torino, which he has kept in mint condition. When a young Hmong male living next door is pressured by a local gang to steal the Gran Torino, a chain of events is set into a motion that change Walt’s life.
“Gran Torino” succeeds on the strength of Eastwood’s ability to play Walt as a man who does not apologize for who he is not matter what. There is a respect that a person projects when they have certainty in what they believe. Walt is endearing because his actions are those of an honorable, decent man. He does what is right, even while being a bigot. The audience can make excuses for Walt’s behavior because they see that deep down he can relate to the humanity that unites all races.
Eastwood has a particular knack for incorporating tragedy and loss in his movies with just the right level of drama. And no matter how awful events are, there is always an element of hope at the end