- Released Internationally on 12/12/08
- Released in Malta by KRS on 20/02/09
In a nutshell
Recently widowed Walt Kowalski is retired after a lifetime of service in the car-making industry, and as a soldier in the Korean War. He has strongly-held beliefs about manhood, the American way, religion and the influx of immigrants into his neighbourhood, but they’re all about to be tested by his relationship with his troubled neighbours.
Welcome to the neighbourhood
Despite being of Polish descent himself, Walt considers himself a true American, and openly dislikes all the immigrants moving into his locality, just as he picks on his Italian barber and disapproves of his son’s Asian car. He knows what he likes, right down to his favourite brand of beer and his prized possession – a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, and he’s determined not to make anyone change his mind. His neighbourhood is attracting a large number of immigrants however, especially Hmong families, who are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia. He makes no attempt to befriend his Hmong next-door neighbours, and all he asks is that they stay off his lawn.
So many issues, so little time
One of the great feats of this deceptively-simple film is the large number of issues it manages to tackle so convincingly in under two hours, which is what makes it so enjoyable to watch and so effortlessly flowing. The character of Walt manages to combine the increasingly important topics of racism, growing old, religion and violence, and the film manages to be a remarkable study of all of them. Walt’s relationship with the village pastor, whom his wife was very close with but who he calls an ‘over-educated, 27-year-old virgin’, is particularly amusing to watch.
The man who makes the movie
The film starts, ends and is all about Clint Eastwood. He directs, acts, produces, and even lends his gravelly voice to the end credits song. The role is perfect for him because with such a rich on-screen history, it’s easy to see him as the hardened, experienced old man who’s still as tough as nails and not to be messed with. His weathered face, his deliberately slow pace, and his attention-demanding voice are enough to put genuine fear into the most loud-mouthed of youths.
As the local gangs start to pick on the fatherless girl and boy next door, Walt comes to the rescue – at first just to stop the inconvenience to his property, but later out of genuine concern and righteousness. Hailed as a hero by his Hmong neighbours, he finds himself slowly drawn into their world, and takes on the missing paternal role in the life of the unconfident and bullied son. As his feud with the gangs begins to escalate, Walt is forced to decide just how much he is willing to sacrifice so that his immigrant neighbours can finally find some peace in their new neighbourhood.
In the end
The film delivers on every level. Clint Eastwood is fascinating to watch, and the different aspects of his changing character are easy to sympathise with. Despite his hardened exterior at the start of the film, every change we see in him comes about convincingly, and he never loses face or seems defeated – on the contrary, he rises above everyone else and becomes a man we should all aspire to be like. All the action happens within the same few blocks of Michigan neighbourhood, and there aren’t any fancy special effects, but this is one of the best-written and important films to come out of 2008.