Clint Eastwood's 'Gran Torino' coming to Netflix

“Gran Torino” is Clint Eastwood’s 2008 meditation on the meaning of manliness, of family, and of growing old in a world that has become, for the main character, strange and unpleasant. Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran and retired auto factory worker living in Detroit. Walt is a bitter old man, having recently lost his wife of 50 years, and being estranged from his adult children and grandchildren. His neighborhood has evolved from a mainly white, working-class community to one populated mainly by Asian immigrants and has become gang ridden.

Walt’s life changes, oddly, when a young man named Thao, a member of a Hmong refugee family, tries to steal his beloved 1972 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. One thing leads to another, and the cantankerous old man finds himself bonding with his Hmong neighbors. He has more in common with them than he does with his own family. He becomes a mentor to Thao, whose family forces him to do odd jobs for Walt as part of his penance. In turn he helps the young man to get a job and even gives him dating advice.

Of course, the local gang is not amused at these developments and reacts badly. Without giving out spoilers, one can only assume that going up against even a 78 year-old played by Clint Eastwood is a bad idea.

The Hmong are an ethnic minority who live in Southeast Asia and who allied themselves with the United States during the Vietnam War. After the communist victory, many Hmong were obliged to flee overseas to escape persecution, the majority to the United States. Oddly, “Gran Torino” does not touch on the shared experience that Walt and some of his Hmong neighbors have of being war veterans.

Eastwood won considerable praise by casting Hmong actors, many of whom had not worked professionally before, rather than generic Asians. Whether he depicted Hmong culture accurately is a matter of some dispute, though some of the arguments have been tainted by social justice warrior rhetoric.

Suffice to say that “Gran Torino” is a moving story on a number of levels, telling how a bitter old man finds a measure of redemption and even happiness before an ending that is at once heroic and heartbreaking. Eastwood, who became famous for appearing in westerns, has a more nuanced view toward violence and what it takes to counter it. Now Netflix subscribers can stream the movie, appreciating a great work of a master who has become one of the more versatile filmmakers of our time.