Grand Torino, the car, is a metaphor for misplaced priorities, squandered opportunities–a shiny steel coffin filled with regrets. The movie develops slowly. Clint’s character Walter “(don’t call me Walt)” Kolwalksi is an angry curmudgeon who has just buried his wife. He is estranged from his two sons with whom he failed to establish any personal relationship. Their conversations are strained, awkward and forced. They wish they could connect with their father, but they can’t and they know down deep they will never be able to. But Walt loves his 1972 Gran Torino. He lavishes the love on it he withheld from his children. Not the greatest of life choices.
Walt finds out he is dying and this prompts him to pursue unlikely friendships with his “gook’, “slant-eyed”, “zipper head” neighbors from Viet Nam. That is the crux of the story. Though not entirely satisfying. The transformation is too sudden, the subtle reformation is compressed into too short of a time span. But, the message it delivers does not suffer too badly: “Even at 75 you are not too old to make attempts to “redeem the years that the Locust’s have eaten,” to quote the Bible. But, choices have consequences, and settled patterns of character over many long decades do not disappear in a Hollywood instant. At the end there are still deep regrets for a life of loving the wrong thing and failing to love the right things.
Walt is hounded by the new young father to come to confession. The struggle to admit the sins of commission and omission exposes what is at the heart of Walt’s failures. He is a man filled with anger but it is anger prompted by a stubborn and self-destructive and family-destructive pride. The redemption at the end is powerful but it is only partial. The closing credits with Clint’s weathery, whispery, whiskery voice on the title score he wrote is the perfect conclusion to this haunting anthem of longing and regret. It was perhaps my favorite part. It is a call to live well, to love well; to invest in people not metal, or matter, or all those other things that will eventually rust away into nothing.
And what to do about all that guilt about all those wrong choices? The confessional is a good place to begin to be set free.
(I think it a cute bit of irony that Walt, an unrepentant, racial bigot of the most profane sort, loves a car with a name that either Italians (“wops”) or Hispanics (“wet- backs”) would have selected.)
I give it 4 carrots.