If this is Squint Eastwood’s final onscreen appearance, as he’s said, then he leaves us with something much dirtier than Harry Callahan, maybe unforgivably so. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a full-on racist: an unreconstructed Korean War vet and recent widower brandishing his rifl e on his suburban Detroit porch with a less-than-welcoming growl. ‘Get off my lawn’ would seem suffi cient; Gran Torino appends a whole lot more, viciously. Over the course of its earnest, thrillingly rude duration, it finds room for what sounds like every slur for Asians invented. Kowalski threatens to go ape-sh*t on his encroaching Hmong neighbors, yet – wouldn’t you know it? – softens as he comes to appreciate the quiet industriousness of Thao (Vang), whom he bosses around out of unexpressed affection.
Where is Sam Fuller when we need him most? The great B-movie poet could have made a meal out of these masculine rites and symbols, especially the 1972 vintage car crouched in Kowalski’s garage like a puma. The problem, a somewhat depressing one, is that Eastwood has grown into a director who thinks he’s superior to his mentors. A hint of pretension has crept into his filmmaking (multiple Oscars will do that), and his exchanges with his young cast feel overwrought. Unforgiven remains his high watermark; maybe Eastwood can now go back to impressing us.