Four years passed between Million Dollars Baby and Gran Torino – four years in which Clint Eastwood settled to staying behind the camera. So the question that was asked was whether he hunted for a project like Gran Torino in order to act again.
As Clint Eastwood said, he didn’t do that. In his own words, actors at his age rarely find a role that suits them, and he was getting used with the idea of being just a director (after all, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and Changeling have all been successful movies).
However, Gran Torino brought a character that he always wanted to play, a character that fitted him the best: an aging racist that changes his perspective on life itself. As Clint Eastwood said, he dealt with a lot of people like Walt Kowalski when he was young, people that couldn’t care less about immigrants.
And it wasn’t just that, it was also the fact that the character felt left out because of his age, becoming even more secluded from his own family (thus a subject which will always be debatable). In a way, Gran Torino is as much about racism as it is about obsolescence.
Clint Eastwood also said that he didn’t want to sugar-coat anything and that he also wanted to show everything just like it was. So this is why his portrayal of Walt Kowalski seems so genuine for the entire duration of the movie: when dealing with such a sensitive subject, being politically-correct has nothing to do with it.
In a way, Walt Kowalski is forced to face a different reality than the one he saw during the Korean War. He has to live with a Korean family next door – and this is what changes a bit his perspective. He doesn’t change suddenly, just like he doesn’t change completely.
However, upon seeing that these people also have morals and that these people can also live according to the American values, he has a change of heart. He tries to teach the family’s young kid what ambition, what ethics really are.
After Gran Torino, four more years passed before Clint Eastwood returned as an actor in Trouble with the Curve. As he said, he feels as happy behind the camera just like when he is in front of it.
Who knows, maybe in 2016 he will play yet another great character.