The last time I cried on the way home from a movie was Million Dollar Baby. As I drove, I thought about the movie's battered girl in the hospital bed, surrounded by heartless relatives, and the coach who who loved her like a father. Down came the tears.
Clint Eastwood knows what he's doing. On my way home from Gran Torino, which made me laugh until the end, I started crying again. I suspect that the range of reactions to this spare movie, which Eastwood is releasing within a year of having first read the script, has to do with how people feel about Eastwood and his characters over the years, from Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name to Pale Rider's Preacher or the angry gunslinger bent on revenge in Unforgiven. Gran Torino's cranky Korean War vet Walt Kowalski consciously calls up an entire career of performances.
It's also generational. How we feel about the 78-year-old actor-director, who represents the values of an entire generation--good values, not just the prejudices he makes fun of in the movie--will also have an impact on our reaction. No matter what you think of Gran Torino--over-the-top though it may be--the Academy will respond well to this performance. This wily old codger could even give Sean Penn a run for his money.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]