Channel 5: Sunday 29 November, 9.00pm
Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, the grumpiest of old men. The priest at his wife’s funeral looks like a choirboy. Clint growls and grimaces and talks through gritted teeth to his family. He sneers and scowls at his Asian neighbours. Zipperheads, he calls them. But a bond of sorts is forged when teenager Bee Vang tries to steal Clint’s prized 1972 Gran Torino, a coupé so smooth Steve McQueen would’ve driven it if Bullitt had been made five years later.
Clint polishes it up like a trophy and leaves it on his driveway as temptation for the Hmong gang that dared Vang to steal it. Vang’s sister Ahney Her has the gang tagged: “You guys are stupid.” The facts tend to bear her out. Among the disaffected Asian youths, the girls go to college, the boys go to jail. Clint’s going to get his revenge on these street corner hoodlums. Just not in the way anyone expects.
This beautifully modulated movie subtly shifts through the gears – from bitter comedy to tragedy, through to a powerful finale. It opened in US cinemas just one month after Eastwood’s previous masterpiece, Changeling. Which is simply astounding (Clint was nudging 80 at the time). For all the rough language and racist epithets, this is one of his most tender films. And no one does a slow burn better than Clint. No one ever did.
He said Walt Kowalski would be the last role he ever played on screen, and what a fitting finale it would have been. If Undefeated was Eastwood’s adios to the Man With No Name, Gran Torino laid Dirty Harry to rest. Alas, he went back on his word with the thoroughly respectable – and mediocre – family drama, Trouble With the Curve.