The Greatest Conservative Films: Gran Torino (2008)
“Get off my lawn…!”
You knew this series wasn’t done with Clint Eastwood. He’s quite possibly the king of Hollywood Conservatives—the most well-known of those “out of the closet”, to the point where he spoke at the 2012 RNC. And if the Dirty Harry series is any indication, he’s a Culture Warrior, through and through.
Mind you, most of his stuff is Conservative-friendly—“small-c”, if you will. But small “c” or big “C”, his track record is solid—to the point that, whenever I encounter one of those philistine, Luddite “BOYCOTT HOLLYWEIRD!!! BOYCOTT IT ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!” types…my go-to response is exactly the same:
“All of Hollywood? Does that include…Clint Eastwood’s stuff?”
Now they’re in a dilemma. To say “YES!—ALL OF IT!!! DON’T SUPPORT THE OVERLORDS—IT’S NOT WORTH SUPPORTING CLINT!”—well, it looks…dumb, at least to anyone reading the exchange. After all, I brought up a guy who’s so openly Right, he went on stage at the RNC, and mocked the Dear Leader Obama! That man deserves our patronage—he deserves as much cultural influence and clout as we can give him. And audience patronage does indeed give him that.
To hinder that cultural influence, just to spite some unseen nobodies “above” him that nobody thinks about…is nothing short of friendly fire, in the Culture War. Nothing else. I mean, really: You’re targeting Clint in the hopes that MAYBE some collateral damage hits some bad guys…? Seriously—if any tactician were to propose that, they’d be laughed out of the room, or worse.
But on the other hand…for those online commenters to say “Uh…no, I guess we can make an exception for Clint”—well, then I’ve got an opening. I’ve gotten them to admit that “Boycott it ALL!” is nonsense, and that what they should be advocating, if anything, is a selective boycott—support the good guys, and make them crush the bad guys at the box office.
See, if they’d just admit that from the very beginning, American Conservatism would be a LOT better off. Heck, we could’ve had a Conservative movie studio by now….
But I digress. With all that out of the way…on to Gran Torino, the last film that Clint Eastwood’s both starred in and directed. For now, at least.
SPOILER ALERT, by the way—especially in how it all ends. Oh, and…perhaps I should just post an all-inclusive “WARNING: LANGUAGE!” up here, to avoid having to do it over and over and over. It’s Clint Eastwood, after all.
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
There’s an old list of Pro-Freedom movies from Glenn Beck’s site The Blaze, written by the great Buck Sexton. Way back when I had a Conservative talk show at USF’s Bulls Radio, I remember reading it to the audience. And guess one of the movies on the list!
This film is practically an infomercial for the 2nd Amendment, on top of its Oscar-worthy directing by Eastwood. In several of its most memorable scenes, the protagonist’s access to a firearm is what saves the day. Eastwood smashes politically correct nonsense, and in the process, weaves one of the most compelling coming-of-age stories in recent memory. It’s like Dirty Harry meets The Karate Kid, only much better than both.
Well, I’m not too sure about Dirty Harry. But that’s beside the point….
“Someone Ya Shouldn’t Have (bleeped) With”:
Walt’s a Korean War vet. He knows a thing or two about killin’ folks…and the steel in his eyes let everyone know it. Pay close attention to the movie, and you’ll notice that (aside from the gun going off after he trips early on—the bullet hitting the ceiling), never once does he fire a single shot. Never once does he need to. The fact that he’s got a gun on hand—and his aura of confidence and willingness about it—is enough to get punks to back down.
Safe to say they ain’t feeling lucky. (And you gotta love their look of awe at the end, as they watch him go….)
It’s the scene everyone remembers from this film:
“A man’s home is his castle,” as the old saw goes. And he’ll be darned if some punks are gonna stir up some violence on his castle grounds. As he notes to Padre the next day, “When things go wrong, you gotta act quickly.”
And if he’ll protect some innocent folks in the process…so be it.
But What About The “Escalation”?
People often point this out to me, whenever I bring up the above point about guns: “But what about when the gang attacks the family—weren’t they responding to Walt threatening one of them? With…a gun? And doesn’t Walt save the day by leaving his guns behind…?”
Well…sure. In a vacuum, they may have a point. You gotta keep in mind, though: context.
In Gran Torino’s case, an essential element to the story is how the Hmong community in the area is so afraid of the gang that literally no one will stand up to them. As far as the villains are concerned, they can get away with it—Walt or no Walt.
Remember, for a time Walt’s able to keep the punks at bay, courtesy of Get Off My Lawn, etc. But the point of the “escalation” scene is that they’ve finally realized that Walt’s the only one around willing to take a stand—and after all, he’s Just One Man. One sheepdog, against a whole pack of wolves…and the pack’s just caught on. “Boys…lamb’s back on the menu!”
As to the ending, Walt knows darn well he has to be absolutely sure the punks are put away, no matter what happened. And again, the Hmong community’s long been bullied into silence by the gang. They won’t testify against them…
Unless they gun down an unarmed, innocent man who’s not of their community. In that case, they have no choice but to open their mouths to the police.
Keep in mind: Walt would not have been able to goad the punks into shooting, unless he were able to convince them that he was armed and dangerous. Lo and behold, for most of the movie he was armed—and dangerous.
Therefore, the Second Amendment’s still vindicated—even in an indirect sense.
Straight from the great Carlin: There is absolutely nothing inherently, intrinsically wrong with words deemed “racial slurs”, in and of themselves—“It’s the context…that makes them ‘good’ or ‘bad’!”
Case in point: Walt and his buddies, of differing backgrounds, tossing “racial slurs” at each other—Walt, being Polish, is called a “Pollack”, for example.
A sequence between him, his Italian barber buddy, and Thao is very telling. Walt and the barber hurl “slurs” at each other, no problem—but, Thao better not dare trying his hand at it. The context: familiarity. It’s the dividing line between racism and just busting the other guy’s chops—was it an actual insult, or a jest among friends? The answer is in the context.
Now…context-wise, Walt pretty much is racist concerning the Hmong community (presumably because they look like the North Koreans he fought way back when)—at first. But the contrast’s emphasized. And he gets over it, of course.
Elegy For Old-Time Values:
Walt’s having a hard time with his family. A real hard time. His sons don’t want anything to do with him—preferring to throw him in a nursing home, rather than trying to form any kind of connection with him. Whoever’s fault it might be, it’s pretty darn clear the sons and their wives are just plain dismissive of Walt, and anything he has to say or think about anything.
And as for the grandkids…well, just that opening funeral scene tells all: The girl didn’t think to dress up for the occasion (preferring to, well, dress down), and she even texts during the service.
And one of the boys, well…doesn’t exactly say the right words. In the least.
And as if to add insult to more insult, Walt’s son blames Walt for glaring at all that: “Can’t even tone it down for Mom’s funeral”—not that he cared about having his own kids showing some respect for the fact that they’re at a funeral. And his bother continues the derision:
“What do you expect? Dad’s still living in the ‘50s. He expects his granddaughter to dress a little more modestly….”
“Yeah, well, your kid’s wearing a Lions jersey—I’m sure Dad appreciates that.”
“Point I’m trying to make is that there’s nothing anyone can do that won’t disappoint the old man. It’s inevitable.”
Sarcastic. Dismissive. Acting like their kids acting out is no big deal. And the two of them go on to discuss what to “do” with him….
Walt’s certainly bitter. But it never seems to occur to his boys that they’ve got something to do with it—rejecting everything about him as “old fashioned” and outdated. It never occurs to them that Walt feels outdated…out of time. The death of his wife has just underlined it.
Boys To Men:
As the movie progresses, Walt’s flabbergasted at how the neighboring Hmong family makes him feel a lot more comfortable. And it’s pretty clear why: The values he fears have been abandoned, leaving him to dry, still exist among the folks he didn’t think he could give the time of day to. It’s painfully clear that the Hmong community makes it a point to respect their elders, not dismiss them. (And that includes an old lady who’s a clear parallel to Walt himself—down to lounging on the front porch while going on about white idiots…and spitting tobacco juice.)
Better and better: Walt feels useful again, mentoring Thao in how to succeed in his life. He turns a boy into a man, mentoring him in fixing things up, and eventually get a job in construction…and in return Walt has the satisfaction of being a good, solid father figure. He teaches Thao the value of hard work and motivation—and about sticking up for himself…and overcoming his shyness in asking a girl out.
And in the end, it’s to Thao that Walt leaves his 1972 Gran Torino. Not any of the biological family that shrugged off any value Walt had to offer.
For Bonus Points:
Walt quickly forms a connection with Thao’s sister, Sue—over her guts in standing up to punks, their mutual authenticity, and her willingness to banter about their cultural differences, rather than act offended.
“Y’know somethin’, kid? You’re all right.”
The padre also earns Walt’s respect, with his willingness to stand up to Walt:
“Well, I gotta hand it to ya, Padre. You came here with your guns loaded this time.”
In both cases, we see authenticity’s vitally important to our grizzled protagonist. No fronts with him. No P.C. It is Clint Eastwood, after all.
By the way, Sue lays out for Walt the history of how the Hmong tribes ended up in America, as opposed to their homelands in Thailand, China, etc. Lo and behold, they were exiled or killed by the Communists in that region, for fighting on our side in Vietnam.
Sitting on his porch, Walt notes how rude “kids nowadays” are to an old lady unloading her groceries across the street. He’s about to get up to help her out…but then he sees Thao heading over to do so—impressing Walt, cluing him in to the fact that there’s more to him than the clueless loser he’s acted like until now.
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
Clint Eastwood. (Spit!) That’s why.
In all seriousness…
Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski:
If Unforgiven was a fitting cap to his classic Westerns…Gran Torino was the cap to his other legendary character archetype: The urban tough guy who ain’t gonna take it—who calls it like he sees it, and ain’t gonna give a darn if it offends you. The guy who gets things done. Dirty Harry, etc.
Here, the tough guy’s long retired…and life’s long passed him by. By a cruel stroke of fate, he’s still around, having to watch life pass him by—even his own kids abandoning him. Add to that the trauma of memories of Korea…and it’s clear his bitter sense of humor’s about all he’s got keeping him going.
Padre’s persistence sets him on the path to opening up about himself: He knows a lot more about death than about life…and the value of it.
Meanwhile, he can’t help himself. Beneath his crusty exterior, he’s just gotta have some kind of purpose for whatever time he’s got left. And through that, he finds himself drawn into becoming the neighborhood hero for getting Spider and his punks off his lawn—and the neighbors’. Then he saves Sue from a gang in the hood. And bit by bit, even he’s gotta admit that he’s got a heart—and that heart’s leading him to do whatever it takes to protect this community. And from there comes the powerfully heartwarming arc of his finally finding his new place in the world, among these people he was so sure he’d have nothing in common with.
However temporary that place may be.
But before I get ahead of myself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Clint’s greatest moment in the film—the look on his face when Thao asks him one simple question:
“What’s it like, to kill a man?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Bee Vang plays Thao—initially shy and monotone, we see his emotional range increase with his self-confidence…courtesy of Walt’s tutelage.
Ahney Her plays Sue, who forms a nice chemistry with Walt by matching his snark with her own. And it makes what happens to her all the more meaningful.
Christopher Carley plays Padre, aka Father Janovich—the foil for Walt, his conscience amid our hero’s redemption arc, challenging his crusty ways throughout.
John Carroll Lynch plays Martin, the Italian barber with a chop-busting camaraderie with the Polish Walt.
And Scott Eastwood—Clint’s son—plays the wannabe “dawg” who’s powerless to do anything, leaving Walt to save Sue from getting harassed by a gang.
“How Guys Talk”:
The most priceless moment in the film, where Walt brings Thao into Martin’s barbershop to teach him the Manly Art of Banter:
The very next sequence has Walt bringing Thao over to a contractor (and buddy of Walt’s) for a job. And brother, Thao’s been learning.
It’s one of the most shocking things about the movie. Now let’s be honest: We were all itching to see Clint Eastwood rise to the occasion once more—by taking up his guns and blowing away all of Spider’s gang, saving the day. Heck, as deconstructive as Unforgiven was, even that film has something along those lines, right?
Well…Walt does rise to the occasion. And he does save the day. He just…doesn’t do it by taking up his guns. He comes unarmed, goading the punks into shooting him—ensuring they’re all put away for good.
Hard to watch. Harder to handle. But throughout the film, we’ve seen him slowly coming to realize that he’s dying anyway. And so…if he’s gonna go, he might as well make his end count for something. Walt’s the warrior who seeks, above all else, an honorable death.
Besides, if he does bring a gun—let along draw it—the surviving goons could claim self-defense, and no witnesses would dare challenge them.
It’s a scenario that has only two “all-good” endings: Walt somehow manages to gun them all down before falling himself—unlikely…
Or, he do exactly what he does.
It’s a realistic end. A heroic one, nonetheless.
By The Way…
Pay close attention to the newspaper horoscope Walt reads aloud. There’s some…eerie foreshadowing for how his arc turns out:
As I noted before, Gran Torino is so far the last movie Clint’s both directed and starred in. He’s gone on to star in Trouble With The Curve alongside the angelic Amy Adams, who plays his daughter in the film. That’s his latest acting role, so far—beyond that, he’s sticking to directing.
And yes…that’s Clint “singing” the song about the Gran Torino, as the end credits begin.
Buy/rent the movie here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
THE SERIES SO FAR:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
The Enforcer (1976)
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Captain America: Civil War. (2016)
The Green Berets (1968)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Other People’s Money (1991)
Hail, Caesar! (2015)
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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