Overall Impression – Despite the evidence, Eastwood never gets old.


Who’s your main character? – Walt Kowalski.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: save his Hmong neighbors from the local gang.  Personal: teach Thao to be a man.  Private: find a reason to keep living after his wife’s death.

Who’s trying to stop him? – The gang and, to a lesser extent, himself.

What happens if he fails? – The gang will tear the Hmong family apart, if they don’t kill them first.


Orphan – Walt is a widower who wants nothing to do with his two disrespectful sons, whom he doesn’t consider good men.  He’s also a racist living in an increasingly Hmong dominated community.

Wanderer – Walt catches Thao (the teenage Hmong boy next door) stealing his Gran Torino as part of his forced initiation into a gang.  When the gang later tries to take Thao, their fight spills onto Walt’s property and he warns the gang to get off his lawn.  Not only does Walt put himself in the gang’s sights, he’s now the reluctant hero of the local Hmong.  They adorn him with gifts, even though Walt just wants to be left alone.  In town, Walt involves himself further when he saves Thao’s sister from thugs.  They become friends, Walt learns about the Hmong family, their culture and the problems they face with the gang.

Warrior – Walt opens up and agrees to take Thao under his wing to let him atone for attempting to steal the Gran Torino.  The punishment turns into a friendship, and Walt takes an interest in teaching Thao to be the kind of man his sons should have been.  However, the gang continues the trouble Thao, and when Walt learns that he’s dying, he seeks to protect Thao by taking the fight into his own hands.  Unfortunately, the confrontations escalate until Thao’s sister is raped and the gang does a drive-by on the Hmong neighbors’ house.  Walt realizes that Thao’s family will never have a life unless he stops the gang for good.

Martyr – Walt literally sacrifices himself by tricking the gang into killing him in front of witnesses, ensuring that they go to jail for good.


I enjoyed Gran Torino on a number of levels, but the movie’s tone had me on edge.

I was particularly uncomfortable when it came to Walt’s racist remarks, and not merely because they were racist remarks.  It’s because I found them funny.  I even laughed out loud sometimes – and I certainly wasn’t the only audience member.  Walt’s racism is comically delivered, which leads me to think that the makers wanted the audience to laugh, or at least feel awkward about wanting to.

If I was forced to experience discomfort by laughing at racism, then I felt discomfort because of racism – which feels like it should be right.  But is it?  Was the filmmakers’ tactic fair?  I’d never laugh at that in the real world.  Maybe that’s part of the ‘movie experience’.

— Dan Pilditch

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