Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski (from Gran Torino) may be the manliest character ever caught on film.  Sure, guys may aspire to be suave like Bond, badass like Bourne, and lethal like Bruce Lee or Rambo, but deep down we know those are unrealistic exaggerations.  Fun to be for a day, but maybe not much longer.  Kowalski, though, is what we all wish and fear we might be when we reach seventy.  Kowalski’s material possessions exemplify masculinity.  He has a garage full of tools he’s accumulated over his lifetime, a more realistic version of what MacGyver represents.  He’s got the cool car, obviously, which he keeps in immaculate condition.  Comfortable around guns, he saw combat and received a medal, something which most guys wish they could say they’ve done, even if they have absolutely no desire of actually doing it.  Most of all, he doesn’t take nothing from nobody.  He is his own man, unencumbered by anyone and certainly not by whatever these things you call “feelings” are.  If he wants to spend his life on his front porch, drinking PBRs (of course) by the six-pack, hurling racial epithets when mere grunting isn’t an effective enough method of communication, he damn well will.  Kowalski isn’t cynical, exactly, just entirely comfortable with where he is and entirely unwilling for anyone to suggest otherwise.  And, of course, has a faithful dog by his side.  But as the pinnacle of masculinity he is, naturally, the ultimate joke.

The actual movie is almost irrelevant here.  Gran Torino is a pretty standard tale of neighborhood justice – bad guys start picking on the good guys, main character learns something about himself, someone has to make a sacrifice.  Nothing particularly new or exciting.  The non-Eastwood actors were seemingly chosen to contrast the awesomeness of the man.  And it involves Hmong community probably because they provide an easy group for Eastwood to slur an entertainingly large number of different ways, but don’t have vocal enough support to affect the box office.

No, Gran Torino is pretty much entirely about Eastwood tearing through every scene.  I’m still not entirely sure how he manages to be so incredibly over the top (to the point where a mere grunt elicited raucous laughter in my theater) and yet have the film maintain some semblance of gravitas.  The concept is hard to grasp, as all the other actors are serious, the plot is serious, and Eastwood’s character is the most serious of them all, yet he turns out genuinely funny.  His Kowalski is cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and ignorant, but also a reminder that as annoying as other people are, it is pretty hard to avoid them.  Eastwood single-handedly makes the film worth watching.

Gran Torino is still probably in the hunt for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, but will likely fall short on all three counts.  Which is a good thing, because its sole strength was Eastwood as Kowalski.

There’s a pretty good chance the song “Gran Torino” will get a nomination.  As hilarious as Clint Eastwood singing is, and as much as I appreciate the attempt to mimic Billy Joel’s Italian phase, the song isn’t particularly good.  I suppose it isn’t terrible, and they do use strains of it throughout the movie to some effect, but I can’t say I entirely understand the momentum behind the song.

In all likelihood Clint Eastwood will get a Best Actor nomination in what would be his third acting nomination (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) and most likely his third loss as an actor.  I thought he was absolutely tremendous here, obviously it is character entirely tailored to him.  With just about any other actor, it seems to me the movie would be in danger of going straight to DVD, not pulling in $30 million in its first weekend of wide release.  The sheer watchability of Eastwood in this movie cannot be overstated.

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