Eastwood Makes My Day
Chris Kavan - wrote on 08/19/09
No one plays a mean, old cuss quite like Clint Eastwood. As a Korean War vet who just lost his wife, and a disdain for just about everything and everyone around him, Walt Kowalski is that old man in every neighborhood who tells kids to get off his yard... only he can back it up with iron instead of just words.
Better yet, he's also an unabashed racist - which is a problem when the rest of your neighborhood happens to be populated by Hmong. Despite his extra-tough exterior, Walt isn't a monster, he isn't evil - he may be a bit pessimistic, but given the circumstances that's understandable.
Ignoring his pleas to be left alone, his Hmong neighbors treat him kind of like a local hero when he scares off the local gang. His even takes his next-door neighbor, Thao under his wing. He still uses racial slurs left and right, but the family seems to know it's not said in anger - that's just his way.
You know things aren't going to wrap up nice and pretty when everything is said and done. I kind of knew where this one was headed, but it didn't matter. The story, which is familiar, still manages to bring something different to the table thanks to steady direction and a culture that many (including myself) haven't seen before this film.
I'm also impressed that Eastwood didn't take the easy road in actors. He used Hmong people for the roles. This means that you have a lot of first-time actors in big roles. It isn't always pretty, but it always feels authentic. If people can't look beyond that, it's too bad.
If this is, as Eastwood said, his last starring role, then he has capped off a long career in a memorable way. He's still got it whether he's in front of or behind the camera.