Rust belt blues

By Susan W. Woods

Steely Eastwood portrays dying American Dream

“Gran Torino” is like the Detroit-made, 1972 muscle car for which it’s named — an all-American relic. When the American auto industry was king, the workers lived in and around Detroit, fulfilling the American Dream. You worked hard, were loyal to the company, bought a house, created thriving neighborhoods of your own kind, had a family and died. This movie is a testament to the end of this dream.

Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this vehicle that allows him to play the iconic Eastwood — a flawed, lone hero who communicates with squints, growls and action.

Although it is set in Detroit, “Gran Torino” plays like a good-old Western with America’s last cinematic cowboy in the lead role.

Eastwood is still fighting the good, the bad and the ugly, the punks and the unforgiven, with his steely machismo and menacing presence. The difference is that he is now 78 and facing his final fights.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Ford autoworker who lives in his old neighborhood, which has been resettled by immigrants, especially the Hmong people, who come from the mountain ranges of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

Recently widowed, Walt spends his waning years sitting on his porch drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and using every politically incorrect epithet in the English language to complain about the decline of his surroundings, his life and the United States.

Walt reluctantly gets involved with his next-door neighbors when the young son, Thao, tries to steal his prized Gran Torino as part of an initiation into a local gang of thugs. As he develops a relationship with Thao and his spunky sister (played by Lansing’s Ahney Her in her first acting role), Walt’s life expands beyond his porch, and his brittle heart begins beating with affection.

This movie may sound heavy, but it is actually quite funny and touching. Eastwood’s growl and scathing slurs just keep coming with great comic timing, and the ending can bring tears to your eyes.

‘Gran Torino’

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Rated R 116 minutes

Four hearts (out of five)