Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is the most unsubtle form of racist. He’s bigoted, and he doesn’t care who knows it. Haunted by the killings he took part in in the Korean War, Kowalski is adrift after his wife passes away. When he realizes his Hmong neighbors are more of a family than his own sons, he begins to soften up a little. Softening is a relative thing and circumstance makes neighbors and families of sorts of us all.
Ironically, he takes a liking to the young boy next door who was forced to attempt to steal Walt’s prized ’72 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation rite. The boy (Thao, who Walt refers to as Toad) has a gutsy, feisty sister who Walt quickly comes to respect, and who eases the way for Walt into the heart of the changing neighborhood.
While the movie is manipulative in spots, it also has a tenderness hidden under the roughness. Walt is a man alienated from most all living things at this point in his life. His wife (whose funeral is at the outset of the movie) was maybe the last good thing about his life, and it would be easy to see him spiraling into depression ad madness. How ironic that an alien culture brings him back to life.
Eastwood’s Walt is a bit of an overblown caricature and his overt racism seems to be tolerated to a degree that stretches credibility. Ahney Her’s Sue (the sister) is wonderful and is certainly the best thing about the movie.