Matthew Sibley’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Yeah, I am. I’m the white devil.” // “I’ve got blood on my hands. I’m soiled.”
I think this film's release in 2008 was the first time I became aware of Clint Eastwood, albeit without fully being aware of what this was as for some time I think I literally took people talking about similarities of Walt's character and that of Dirty Harry as to mean this was a years-later sequel. In the just-over-a-decade since, Eastwood has acted in just two films; one of them being his own woefully underseen The Mule. (Not counting the cameo in American Sniper) What that means is that while his directorial output has remained just as consistent and prolific, his on-screen image as an actor has largely been defined by what this film appears to be on its surface. Yes, Walt's dialogue is more than peppered with casual xenophobia and slurs, that is an underlying characteristic of the role, and of course, he's no stranger to letting his star image get a little dirty, High Plains Drifter made that clear thirty-years prior. He's content with the auteurists knowing about the sympathies towards the Japanese people found in Letters from Iwo Jima and the general public not being aware. I'm not sure there are many director-actors since that would want to potentially threaten their perception in the public consciousness in the same way.
Just like Unforgiven, his other that could have been treated as a final film and statement on his career, this is a Western, as evidenced by how it builds to a final confrontation where the Hmong people of the local area come out to their porches to observe the showdown just like the people of frontier towns would stand to watch a duel in the Old West. But it's not just that, Eastwood's classical sense of filmic economy means that the conflict is established early, only for the film to spend an extended amount of time on building up Walt and Tao's growing bond (and only once Tao has gotten the construction job does the script brings his cousin and the gang back into play). Though while Unforgiven is a revisionist Western set in the late 1800's, this is more post-revisionist by taking place in the modern world and in its eschewing of protagonist-driven violence come the face-to-face of Walt and the gang.
In the parlance of another filmmaker, Scorsese and The Irishman, this is his death film, the coffin he picked out. Its aesthetic cements the late style that Changeling ushered in. Many of the film that follow are more accomplished than this, including the next "final film" The Mule, in large part because the comedic moments fit better with its lighter air. Regardless, those moments are not entirely out of place here, as they work well with the idea that the world has long since passed by Walt, he's still there thinking about the kid he shot back in Korea. As a result, this is not really a white savior film in the same way that Green Book reads as. This is just as much about him learning about the culture of Tao's family and the wider Hmong people that have become the dominant group of his neighbourhood. While they can, and have, largely assimilated into the American culture, Walt can't entirely come to grips with how they operate. This is not purely a story of Walt taking a kid under his wing, teaches him the American way, it is also a lament of how Walt has driven so many away and is being given a chance at another way of life. It makes him just as much the Other when he comes into the Lor household and their gatherings as Tao in his attempt to steal the Gran Torino. (Even then, the spectacular lighting and cutting while the screen in black presents Walt as the terrifying figure, not an old man dealing with a case of home invasion). This lesson is then reversed, in keeping with how much the film works to mirror, by having him utilise a way aside from violence in resolving the conflict. The world he knew has long gone, when he was alone he found this horrifying. It's only once he engages with a new one that he understands how it will gone on.
That fade from Walt on the ground to the blue and red of the police lights has to have been an influence on Cooper for A Star is Born, right?