I really didn't appreciate how good this film was until the final credits rolled and Clint Eastwood started barking out the lyrics to a song I'd never heard. The song had the same title as the movie and he sounded like Tom Waits after a stroke.
Engines humm and better dreams grow
Heart locked in a Gran Torino
Eastwood has become an American icon. A lot of what he wants to talk about now seems to be concerning Korea and Japan and race relations. When he was actually on his way to Korea to help fight that war, after being drafted, his plane crashed and he survived. He stayed home to testify about the accident. He never actually participated in that conflict. Perhaps it's guilt for the buddies he knew who went. Perhaps he's studied about these conflicts during his life. Something has happened to cause him to spend a lot of time thinking about wars fought with folks in the Far East.
He seems to really have a love for the car in this film. Personally, I always preferred the GM muscle cars. The Pontiac GTO and the Oldsmobile 442 and the Chevy SS were my favorites. Perhaps it was the divine advice I got from a car aficionado back in the day. He told me that Ford stood for "Fix or repair daily." Or perhaps it was the ass-grinding rides I used to take in my friend's original Mustang convertible. Whatever the reason for my personal preference, this film takes place in Detroit where all the cars used to be made when America was a country run by free men.
I can imagine that it gnaws as much at Clint Eastwood as it does me that this is turning into a country no longer run by free men, but what can you do? You feel as if you're old and in the way of some new and greater idea that some kids have about diversity and world peace and there comes a point where you just have to say, "OK, let's see how all that works out for you."
When this film opens, Clint's likely long-suffering wife has just died and he finds himself alone in a house in a neighborhood that's probably unrecognizable to anyone who lived there 20 years ago and came back to visit. In this case, it's the Hmong who have either rented or bought the cheap property in a washed-up town where the greatest cars in the world used to be built.
My wife's dad spent his whole life in Memphis, TN, building tires for Firestone. He worked his ass off each and every day raising a Catholic family with a wife who had serious mental health problems after the first few kids were born. He had a small house down on Barron Ave. off of Lamar. He washed himself up each day after work in some caustic chemicals that likely led to his death. By the time he died, he was one of the few remaining white men living anywhere near that area. As he sat on his front porch having a glass of red wine each evening around dinnertime, he must have felt a whole lot like Clint Eastwood feels in this movie concerning the Hmong. I never heard my father-in-law say a bad word about blacks. Even though his house was broken into more than once, and we couldn't really let our daughter out of our sight when we'd go to visit him.
Ironically enough, I did some folklore type work with the Hmong community in Memphis back when I worked for an outfit there which did that sort of thing. I found them to be basically hardworking folks who didn't have a clue about what life in America was all about. And, these days, who really knows what it's all about, anyway? If someone living here from another land asked me to tell them about America right now, I'd have to use historical anecdotes. I'm not sure anything around me right now is relevant to the question.
So, I guess you can see by the thread of this so far that I enjoyed the movie very much and had quite a bit of empathy with the character Clint Eastwood plays. I did feel as if the level of xenophobia he exhibits was overdone and that the film would have been better served with a bit of subtlety in that area. Along with the xenophobia, his entire character could have been less repellant. I understand the yin/yang dualism that he felt the film needed in order to show redemption, but there's no need to beat the audience over the head with it in order to make a point.
God bless the man, though. We were in Carmel for a few days last year, and I really wanted to run into him somewhere. He is one of the last real American heroes, whether he ever actually fought in a war or not. And he doesn't really give a damn what Hollywood thinks about him. That's enough to pin a medal on him in my book.