Clint Eastwood's halo is barely obscured by the racist, xenophobic ex-Korean War veteran that he plays in this film. Walter Kowalski is recently widowed, a former vet, who is alienated from his two kind-hearted, if slightly dim-witted, sons and his obnoxious grandchildren who seem eager to paw over his possessions (specifically his Gran Torino car) once he too expires.
Racist Walt is thrust into the life of the family and, because this is a Hollywood film, Walt soon grows to care for them and serves as a sort of protector in this troubled neighborhood. Because Thao's family and Walt foil the gang's intentions to embroil Thao in the gang's criminal activities, the gang begins a long and protracted war against both - physically harassing them, destroying their property - compelling Walt to retaliate in the expected and violent manner.
The story reaches a denouement when they target Sue and both Walt and Thao must decide how they will react to this extreme violence.
Since the film Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood seems to have consciously striven to present a path of non-violent reaction to violent situations as if to atone for the outlaw/cowboy/dirty detective savagery of his Josie Wales/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly/Dirty Harry oeuvre. The film follows in this vein.
But Eastwood's cinematic persona is so big, so all encompassing, that it is difficult to believe in this misanthropic, curmudgeonly persona in the early portion of the film. One simply does not believe it. Perhaps as a former war hero with thirteen kills under his belt, Walt's actions may seem credible and one could believe the extent that Walt is willing to sacrifice himself for the Lors. But the conclusion seems too pat, too heroic, to be truly satisfying.
The Asian cast is weak and I can guess why. There is so little work for Asian actors to cut their teeth on. They are usually forced into the old cliched roles: the tight-lipped scientist, the brainy nerd, the vicious gang member.
But this film does reveal to the filmgoer an Asian community that many of us are not aware of and few of us have exposure to. In our home, we are so pleased to see any Asians in the cinema or TV that we are now reduced to yelling "Asians on TV! Asians on TV!" when we see any.