I know it’s a clichéd phrase, but they just don’t make ‘em like Clint Eastwood anymore. Tall, lean, grizzled and ready to kick ass at a moment’s notice, Clint represents a bygone era of filmmaking – a time when men were men and they weren’t afraid to show it. In his prime Clint shared marquee space with the likes of Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum; men who walked and talked like they had a pair. They existed in an era before political correctness was something to be taken seriously while making a film; doing “what was right” and seeing that justice was meted out with an iron fist was their code. Nowadays you can barely count the number of tough guys working today, which is what makes Clint’s swansong film something to celebrate, albeit with a bittersweet taste. Obviously cinemagoers have missed these days too, because Eastwood’s (presumably) final cinematic vehicle, Gran Torino, is an ode to those days long since passed. Here, Clint has largely succeeded in crafting a delicately woven story about an old codger, not particularly happy with his past and even less happy with himself, who comes to realize that it’s never too late to make up for past wrongs despite a lifetime of internal turmoil and anguish. Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran and recent widower, who spends his days angrily grumbling to himself about everything from his Taiwanese neighbors to his wife’s priest who is intent on fulfilling a final wish she gave before dying. One night his neighbor, Thao Lor, reluctantly agrees to try stealing Walt’s prized Gran Torino in order to be initiated into a local gang. Thao fails and, after offering Walt an apology, finds himself in his debt, forced to do menial tasks to work off his dishonor. Through their simple interactions, and the Lor family’s acts of kindness, Walt realizes that a man can change how he sees the world. The story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and crafty cinephiles will no doubt guess the film’s ending long before seeing it, but what makes this film unique is Eastwood’s gruff, nuanced performance as Walt Kowalski. I didn’t feel like the film was particularly Oscar-worthy, but Clint definitely was robbed of a nomination for Best Actor. Walt is a terse, racist, no bullshit character; a relic that even his neighbors are surprised has lasted so long. Ethnic slurs roll off his sharp tongue like a second language, regardless of his present company who, more often than not, are the group he is deriding. It’s interesting (and fitting) that his character shares the same last name as the lead in 1971’s Vanishing Point, an existential film about one man and his car; an outsider against the world. Walt has done some bad things in his life, things he isn’t happy with, and the guilt and anguish he feels internally are projected outward at anyone within squinting distance. He plans to live his life out smoking “coffin nails” and drinking on his porch but, after providing some unintentional assistance to Thao during a fight, the generosity of his neighbors begin to make Walt see that maybe he can eventually come to peace with what he has done and save a young kid’s life in the process. Aside from a ham-fisted final shot of Walt that instantly reminded me of that final shot of Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, I felt that Eastwood brought this surly character to life with incredible dignity that no one in Hollywood can match. Maybe it’s because Eastwood is such a damn fine actor, but, wow, was this cast bad. Clint purposely hired local Hmong people to portray Walt’s neighbors, but after seeing these performances for myself I think he made a serious blunder. Unlike the high praise that other critically acclaimed film, Slumdog Millionaire, has been receiving for its ensemble cast of unknowns, Gran Torino may have been overlooked at the Oscars because this cast is terrible. I know a lot of Asians can be modest; keeping their heads bowed, being quiet and showing respect but I really wanted more out of the actors here. Thao, played here by newcomer Bee Vang, is almost autistic in his portrayal. His sister, Sue, shows a little more personality but even she can’t elevate any of these performances above where they are. I was most amused by the fat gang member who resembled an Asian Carlos Mencia, yet sounded like Ice Cube. The worst offender, by far, was the Asian gang leader. Honestly, I’ve seen better acting in Godzilla films. Unfortunately, Clintzilla doesn’t stomp all of them into a fine yellow paste to prevent us from hearing them utter one more line of dialogue, but, as you would expect, a few are (thankfully) killed. Bad casting issues aside, I still highly recommend Gran Torino, if for no other reason than to watch one of Hollywood’s finest actors ever deliver what may be his final performance. Clint still holds his own in front of the camera, but even he knows when it’s a good idea to call it a day. He’s no young buck anymore, plus the fact that the film’s eponymous closing number sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman is crooning over an acoustic guitar confirms Clint’s voice isn’t getting any clearer. The film is a fitting tribute of sorts to all the tough-as-nails characters Clint has played throughout the years. Longtime Eastwood fans will have already seen the film (I know, I lagged on it way too long), but those who aren’t I encourage to see this film to witness its simple elegance. Eastwood is an accomplished director and his years of experience show through any of the film’s minor shortcomings. This could have been another forgettable, clichéd film about retribution and redemption in the hands of a less competent actor or director; in the hands of Eastwood it becomes a film with real emotional weight.