To step into Jeremy Clarkson mode for a nano-second, who would not want to sit out on the front porch, drinking beer and admiring a highly polished classic muscle car, winking at you in mint condition from the driveway – a metaphor for your lifelong angst-ridden rendering of the American dream? This nano-second is one of many pleasures in Gran Torino, not the least of which is seeing Eastwood reprise the story arc of Dirty Harry and the spaghetti westerns – this time with the self-contained, low key dignity of a Korean War veteran living in a suburb of Michigan. I’m making it sound like a Death Wish movie, which it most assuredly is not. Gran Torino confronts ideologies of race, war, religion, friendship and family, in the thoughtful mode that has typified Eastwood’s career as director in recent years. The fact that he also chose to be in front of the camera this time just gives it that “Do you feel lucky” element that many of us may have thought Eastwood could no longer pull off. He can.
The movie is a triumph of representation. Eastwood has succeeded in exploring the ethnography of the Hmong people with sensitivity and respect. As one of the cast points out in the “making of” doc on the blu-ray extras, he could so easily have used professional Chinese or Korean actors, but he chose to cast from the culture he was trying to represent, and his care in bringing to public consciousness a people that most would not claim to know much about, definitely shows.
On one level this is kind of Magnum Force meets Up, but on so many other levels it is much more. It won’t win prizes for experimental narrative, but we don’t need experimental narrative every day of the week. Only alternate days. Consume as much beer as you want, stay as thin as Clint, polish your Torino, making sure you get down low to check for smears. Oh, and while you’re out there, fix the neighbourhood will you?