Academy Award winning screenwriter Sylvester Stallone once – or, indeed, many times – said that nobody is as tough as their grandpa, because the times were tougher back then. There’s certainly some truth to that, assuming you’re lucky enough to live in the right kind of place. Of course, when Stallone said it he was promoting Rambo, a movie about an elderly Vietnam vet teaching a bunch of idealistic missionaries that only violence can solve the world’s problems.
We’ve seen this a lot in recent years, but it isn’t anything new. Clint Eastwood seems eager to prove over and over again that old people are better at pretending to be tough in movies than young people. Stallone and Schwarzenegger, once the young athletes of the silver screen, have tried to corner the market in tough old man action and even the once-acclaimed acting powerhouse Liam Neeson has become a comical posterchild for the subgenre. Mel Gibson, meanwhile, has attempted to make several comebacks of the same type with little success, while Tom Cruise gets around the issue by never aging. Even Bill Nighy has taken a swing at it!
The message is always the same: when times get tough, you need to call on someone who was forged in tougher times. Remember: no matter how bad things get, you damn kids don’t know hard times. Your grandpappy saw worse shit than the Syrian civil war on the way to church every Sunday morning and he’s not gonna let you forget it. Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino fantasizes openly about shooting black teenagers on the street, but somehow evolves into a non-racist Christ figure by teaching a young migrant lad how to be a real man (apparently it’s all in the way you talk to your barber or something). And, naturally, that’s what this is all about: being a real man.