Estranged from his children, and the rest of the world, Walt Kowalski is anti-God, immigration, and change. He spends most of his days sitting on the porch, drinking PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon), and watching the world spin out of his control.
The familiar neighbors of days past have been replaced by Hmong immigrants, and the quiet streets have given way to gang violence. Times and culture have changed, and Kowalski’s sense of loyalty to country and self are at odds with others, even his son: “I worked in Ford for 50 years, and he sells Japanese cars.”
The only thing he loves is his cherished throwback to the good ol’ days, his ’72 Ford Gran Torino Sport.
Kowalski is white rural America, and Gran Torino is especially appropriate today after a bitter election in which the working class came out in droves to swing an election the media considered an against-all-odds longshot.
When next door neighbor Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang) tries to steal Kowalski’s beloved car during a gang initiation, Kowalski decides to reform the boy. That puts him in contact with Thao’s sister, Sue (Ahney Her), whose feisty attitude rivals Kowalski’s ability to dish out insults. The three become friends, even if they’re generations apart. The youths give Kowalski something to live for, and the older gentleman gives the teens a father figure.
The acting isn’t all that great from the younger cast members making their feature film debuts, but Eastwood shows he can still make a rock sweat with the heat from his glare.
During a confrontation with gang members that spills onto his property, Kowalski brings out his shotgun. Looking down from the barrel of his gun, he snarls, “Get off my lawn,” with such ferocity, the victim would have escaped with less injury if he had been shot.
Gran Torino is a character piece with Kowalski as its cornerstone, caught between two contrasting and crushing sides — the encroaching foreign world on his personal idealistic space.
The movie’s deeper meaning centers on the wounds we receive when we open our lives to others. Kowalski is but a shade of himself, his better half having passed years before. Closed off, his scars are only skin deep, and he finds true healing by jumping back into the fray and becoming vulnerable again.