A version of this review originally appeared Thursday.
For those who gripe that America doesn't make cars or movies like it used to, Clint Eastwood has two words for you:
This solidly made story of a bigoted Ford assembly-line worker who rebuilds his personal engine with a crankshaft of empathy stars Eastwood as a Korean War vet contemptuous of his immigrant neighbors. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), himself the son of immigrants, is newly a widower. This prickly fellow resembles 76 inches of coarse rope strung so tight he's gonna snap.
is a rethink of the shoot-first, ask-questions-later swagger of Dirty Harry, the character and franchise foundational to the Eastwood persona.
Like Walt, the film is neither elegant nor subtle. Both Eastwood's performance and his direction veer from broad melodrama to broader comedy and back again. But the film boasts crusty humor, heart and conscience.
As he sits on his tidy porch surveying his Detroit neighborhood, Walt is disgusted by the peeling paint, sagging stoops and weedy lawns of the surrounding homes, many occupied by Hmong, Southeast Asian immigrants who fought with the United States during the Vietnam War. But people who nonetheless remind Walt of the enemy in Korea.
Estranged from his own sons, salesmen who drive foreign cars and who lack Walt's do-it-yourself ethic, the widower crashes into a paternal relationship with the fatherless Hmong kids next door.
Walt's transformation from bad neighbor to welcome wagon is slow, sure and shuffling, like him.
I won't go so far as to say that
, which struggles with Eastwood's eternal question of when - or whether - violence is justified, is art. But it's a reliably well-made piece of storytelling from a storyteller whose craft shows few signs of decline, even though the movie feels like a valedictory for his career.
Directed by Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley and Bee Vang. Distributed by Warner Bros.
1 hour, 56 mins.
R (extreme profanity, racial epithets, violence)