Rumor is that Clint Eastwood has said that Gran Torino is his last movie. I hope that's true because it's hard to see how he could top this one; a movie that is a metaphor for Eastwood's own career.
It is always dangerous to conflate an actor's own personality with the character he plays. But in the popular imagination, Eastwood's own character was defined by the westerns he started out in and the Dirty Harry movies of the 1970s and 1980s. He played characters who finally were fed up with evil doers; and accomplished their missions by killing all the bad guys. Nuance was for sissies who would have lost their freedoms if not for the steely-eyed courage of Eastwood with a gun.
In more recent years, particularly in movies he has directed, Eastwood has been showing nuance. Movies like Letters from Iwo Jima, are not exactly pacifistic, but display a wisdom about the efficacy of violence that was not in his younger body of works. Gran Torino is the culmination of the evolution of the Eastwood hero from cold-eyed killer for righteousness sake to wise and courageous human.
Gran Torino is about an aging Korean War veteran who finds absolution for the horrors in which he has participated by a surprising self sacrifice for some Asians he has despised for most of his life. It would be wrong to say that Walt Kowolski, Eastwood's character, is prejudiced, he hates everybody, no matter what their nationality. Even his friends (well, actually, he was not the kind of person to have friends, he had one friend, his barber) are the subjects of his jibes and insults. After the death of his wife, he wants nothing to do with anyone; not his children, his priest and especially not his neighbors who are Hmong from Southeast Asia. All he wants to do is sit on his porch and drink beer, mow his lawn, wipe down his prize 1972 Gran Torino and keep everyone off his yard.
Although there is a lot of tension and drama in the movie, there are also a lot of funny parts. The theater where The Wife and I saw the movie Friday afternoon was nearly filled with people of that certain age who go to movies at 4:00 p.m. (younger people have to work and don't mind going at night when people of that certain age are in bed or thinking of it) and they kept chuckling or laughing throughout.
This is a very good movie; so good that although I have not seen many of the other Oscar contenders, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that it will win at least one Academy Award, that of Best Actor for Eastwood. I would also vote for it for Best Picture and Best Director; it is that good. Absolutely five stars.