“Gran Torino” – It’s Never Too Late [Review]

Gran Torino


Title: “Gran Torino”

Release Date: 2008

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her



“Gran Torino” is one of Clint Eastwood’s directorial and acting gems. The film about an American war veteran, who at the end of his life, influenced by his friendship with a young Asian man, completely changes his perception of strangers, is long memorable. After all, people are united and divided by basic values, not by skin color, education or origin – this is the main message of Eastwood’s picture.

“Gran Torino” – how to understand the Other

The main character of “Gran Torino” is a certain Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood), a widower and pensioner who lives alone in the suburbs of Detroit. All his life he has been an exemplary citizen: first as a soldier of the Korean War, and then as a conscientious employee of the Ford factory. A memento of Walt’s former profession is a car – the eponymous 1972 Gran Torino, which the protagonist takes care of like an apple of his eye. One day a local gang of criminals tries to steal the unique model, but the perpetrator is frightened away by a bloodthirsty old man. He turns out to be a young boy Thao (Bee Vang) and also Walt’s new neighbor, who has recently moved in next door with his Asian family. It seems that this will be the proverbial nail in the coffin for the teenager, as Kowalski is bludgeoning with hatred for the yellow race, calling its representatives “chinks,” “swamp rats” or simply “barbarians”.

Meanwhile, unexpectedly, the family arouses Walt’s sympathy and interest. The man receives an invitation to a family celebration and gradually begins to get to know his neighbors, especially befriending Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her). Gradually, he begins to realize the plight of the immigrant youth, condemned to a lack of education and prospects and entangled in relationships with local gangs. Kowalski decides to help Thao get a job, but the dangerous criminals refuse to give up and unleash an increasingly violent spiral of violence. The Korean War veteran will therefore once again have to rise to the occasion and deliver justice.

gran torino 2008 movie review

“Gran Torino” – an American story about defending values

“Gran Torino” is an American film to the marrow of its bones – set in the expressive convention of the story of a lone avenger who must restore the lost order, as well as drawing a distinct hierarchy of values. Among them, justice, as well as the building of lasting social bonds occupy key places. What we have here is a quintessentially American vision of the state, according to which America is a country for everyone, as long as they abide by mutually agreed-upon rules. What’s more, it’s a multicultural country, and the mixture of nations has been embedded in its history from the very beginning.

Eastwood’s film thus grows out of an inclusive vision of the American collective and unequivocally takes its side, exposing racism and xenophobia in the US today. In turn, placing at the center of the story a protagonist with an extremely negative attitude toward all foreignness is an expression of the filmmaker’s particular attitude. Namely, it consists not so much in negating such an attitude as in understanding its causes. Thus, a kind of self-therapy for Walt takes place here – a kind of transformation, but one that boils down to a better insight into himself and what he considers to be the quintessence of Americanness. For this reason, the clichéd motif of the collectible Gran Torino and its transfer into Thao’s hands in the final scene takes on a symbolic dimension. It is, so to speak, the final sanctioning of the cultural assimilation of the Asian male, who becomes a true US citizen.

Cran Torino Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino”

“Gran Torino” is one of the many Clint Eastwood films in which the artist found himself on both sides of the camera. It can be safely contrasted with such classics as “What Happened in Madison County” and “Million Dollar Baby”. For, as in the aforementioned dramas, the actor played the role of a man undergoing a profound transformation at a ripe old age. It is always associated with a kind of existential balance sheet, the expression of which in “Gran Torino” is Walt’s lifelong delayed decision to confess. The viewer does not find out what its content was, but he knows that it is related to the hero’s war experience. What happened in Korea forever weighs on Walt’s heart and conscience and is probably also the main source of his fears and prejudices.

Perhaps Eastwood’s enduring tendency to show aging heroes rising to the heights of their humanity at the end of their lives is to some extent inspired by the spirit of Ingmar Bergman’s cinema and his great masterpiece “Wild Strawberries”. It’s never too late to look at other people with love, to heal wounds, and in the process discover who really deserves our Gran Torino, says Clint Eastwood.