I don't want to give a whole lot away about this picture, as I suspect this blog is frequented by more than a few good Eastwood men and women who would appreciate the opportunity to experience it from as fresh a perspective as possible. Does it give too much away to say that Gran Torino, which Eastwood stars in and directed, represents, for this critic at least, the final film in a trilogy that began with Unforgiven and continued with A Perfect World? No? Good. Let me then add that I found the film a very fine conclusion indeed, to the trilogy I just made up.(Although I don't think I'll be the last to cite those two other pictures.)
As you may have heard, Eastwood here plays a guy named Walt Kowalski, a Korean war vet and retired Ford assembly line worker living in an unspecified Michigan quasi-suburb. He's tough as nails, still (or so he'd like everyone to believe),cranky as fuck, recently widowed and thoroughly alienated from his kids and grandkids. In other news, his neighborhood seems to be getting overrun by Hmong immigrants. Did I mention Walt's a bigot, too? Indeed he is, and he doesn't care much for his new "gook" neighbors. When Thao, the young, introverted son of the Hmong family next door reluctantly participates in a gang initiation by trying to jack Kowalski's mint condition '72 Gran Torino, Kowalski gets out his old army rifle and goes—well, there's no other way of putting it—all Dirty Harry on the kid, albeit without, you know, killing him. He hones that act on varied other miscreants in the area, and along the way winds up forging a tentative friendship with Sue, Thao's older sister. Which leads to a more intense involvement with her family, with Sue acting as tour guide to Hmong traditions and beliefs. But the aforementioned gang is insistent. As is the young priest who promised Walt's late wife he's look out for the widower, specifically with regard to getting him to go to confession. These varied forces converge to force Walt, who's still haunted by memories of war, to ponder going to war again.
Now I know a lot of people have been chortling over the sight of Meryl Streep in her nun's wimple and granny's granny's spectacles in the publicity shots from and trailer for Doubt. But let me assure you,in the film itself, just a couple of minutes with her character, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, will wipe that smirk or whatever it is right off of your face.
Granted, as a Catholic boy who grew up in a milieu similar to the film's, and at around the same time (but who was, I suppose thankfully, spared the particular rigors of a Catholic school education), I may be more susceptible than most to the specific menace Streep exudes. But I don't think so. This ain't no Sister Mary Elephant we're talking about here—Streep's Aloysius is the real deal, the kind of dogmatically strict disciplinarian whose hovering presence, even from a few feet behind, is sufficient to set any sentient schoolchild's spine straight and stiff. Aloysius is the principal of the St. Nicholas elementary school in the Bronx in early 1964. The '60s have just barely started to swing yet, but she knows that the world—that is, her world—is going to hell in a handbasket, what with requests to use secular songs in the Christmas pageant, transistor radios, ballpoints—yes, ballpoints, they make you press down and are hence ruining penmanship, and some of the newfangled ideas of young-ish parish priest and teacher Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman).