At the funeral Mass of his beloved wife Dorothy, retired auto worker Walt Kowalski looks on with disgust as his grown sons and their families enter the pews. Later, at his home, Walt distances himself from his family, with whom he has a strained relationship, preferring to putter and bring chairs from the basement. He also dismisses young Father Janovich, who tells him that Dorothy had asked him to try to convince Walt to go to Confession. When Walt's granddaughter, Ashley wistfully asks about his pristine 1972 Ford Gran Torino convertible, saying that she could use a car for college, Walt merely walks away. As the days pass, Walt spends his time mowing the lawn and tending to his spotless home. Sitting on the front porch with his dog "Daisy," Walt expresses disdain for the unkempt houses occupied by neighboring Hmong immigrants, and exchanges angry glances with the elderly Hmong grandmother next door. One afternoon, Thao, her shy grandson, is harassed by a local gang, but rescued by his cousin Spider’s gang. Later, when Spider tries to goad Thao into joining them, Thao's more assertive sister, Sue, tells him to leave Thao alone. Thao gives in, though, and reluctantly agrees to Spider’s initiation rite of stealing Walt's Gran Torino. That evening, while Walt is at a tavern enjoying racist jokes with friends, Janovich asks to speak with him again about going to Confession. Walt answers his question by relating the horrors of killing many men in the Korean War, when he earned a Silver Star. During the night, Walt awakens to noise in his garage, prompting him to grab his rifle and fire it blindly several times. Because it is dark, he does not see that the intruder is Thao, who runs away unhurt. The next day, when Spider drives over to Thao's house, he pressures him to try to steal the car again, but Sue, her mother and Grandma angrily tussle with him. The commotion summons Walt from his house, carrying his rifle and ordering them away. After Spider leaves, Thao and Sue try to thank Walt, but he also orders them off his lawn. For several days after the incident, Walt's Hmong neighbors bring him gifts of food and flowers, which he unsuccessfully tries to refuse. Sue tells Walt that he is now a hero in the neighborhood, but he gruffly dismisses her. Janovich, whom Walt has grudgingly come to like, also tries to talk to him again, concerned that he needs to expiate his guilt over his actions in Korea. One day, as Walt is driving his pickup truck, he encounters some black youths threatening Sue and her white boyfriend. Walt intimidates the boys and drives Sue home, while her hapless boyfriend runs away. As the smart and fearless Sue talks with Walt, he finds that he likes her. Some time later, Walt is impressed when he sees Thao run across the street to help an elderly white woman who has dropped her grocery bags. That afternoon, Walt's son Mitch and daughter-in-law Karen bring him a cake to celebrate his birthday, but spoil the occasion by showing him brochures for a retirement community and suggesting that he sell his house. Just after Walt sends the couple away, Sue comes to his door to invite him to a party at her house. Despite his initial reluctance, Walt goes with her and is startled by the shaman Kor Khue, who tells him that he is not at peace. When Walt begins to cough up blood, he rushes to the bathroom and reflects that he received more insight "from these gooks" than his own family. Walt soon begins to enjoy himself, happily eating all of the homemade Hmong dishes and finding the politeness of the Hmong teenagers refreshing. He also notices that one, a pretty girl named Yuoa, has a crush on Thao. The next day, Thao, Sue and their mother approach Walt to tell him that Thao was the person who tried to steal his car. They want Thao to make amends, and although Walt refuses, Thao shows up at his house the next morning. At first Walt dismisses Thao with busy work, but soon has him repairing other nearby houses, and within several days is given the neighbors’ lists of repairs for Thao to complete. On his final day, Thao is rebuffed by Walt, who has just experienced a severe bout of coughing. Walt then goes to a hospital for tests and learns that he is gravely ill. The next day, Thao asks Walt if he knows how to fix a faucet, and Walt eagerly helps him. Now Walt begins to take pleasure in helping Thao's family with household repairs and in teaching Thao what to do. He and Thao become close, and Walt tutors his young friend in more American and manly behavior, such as swearing. When Thao reveals that he would like to attend college but needs to earn money first, Walt introduces him to a friend who owns a construction company. After Thao is hired, Walt takes him to a hardware store to buy him a tool belt and some tools, and assures Thao that he will be fine. A short time later, when Thao is walking home from the bustop after work, some of the gang harass him in an alley, stealing his tools and burning him with a cigarette. Although Thao tells Walt it is nothing, Walt secretly finds one of the boys who hurt Thao and beats him, threatening more if he and his friends do not leave Thao alone. Some time later, at a summer barbeque, Walt plays host to Sue, Thao and Youa, finding it easy to enjoy their company, and loans Thao his Gran Torino to drive Youa to the movies. Later that night, as Walt is watching television, Spider's car drives by and spray's Thao's house with bullets. Walt immediately grabs his rifle and goes next store, frantically asking if everyone is all right. They say that Sue is at a girlfriend's house, but as the hours pass, they become increasingly worried. After hearing a car stop, then race off, they find Sue in shock, badly beaten and raped. As the family cries, Walt rushes home, punches the walls, then starts to cry. When Janovich comes to see him, he tells Walt that the police have left after investigating but no one is saying anything. Walt then says aloud that Sue and Thao will never have peace as long as the gang is there. After telling Janovich to call him "Walt," the men share a beer and discuss what can be done, with Walt concluding that Thao must have a chance at a future. The next morning, an angry Thao goes to Walt and asks him what they should do. Despite Thao's near hysteria, Walt calms him by saying that they need a plan and tells him to return at four o’clock. After Thao leaves, Walt mows his lawn, buys a new suit, has a haircut then goes to Janovich to ask him to hear his confession. Although the priest wonders aloud if Walt has done something terrible, Walt confesses only to a few small transgressions before receiving absolution. After Confession, the worried Janovich says that he plans to go to Walt's house every day to make sure that he does not retaliate against Spider. At four, when Thao returns, Walt takes him to the basement and gives him his Silver Star, but says that the boy does not want to know what it was like to kill a man. Walt then goes upstairs, tricking Thao into remaining in the basement, while Walt locks him inside. Despite Thao's screams, Walt leaves, then takes Daisy next door to Grandma. Walt later calls Sue to tell her where to find his house keys to unlock Thao. Meanwhile, outside Spider's house, Janovich and two police officers are waiting for Walt because Janovich is certain that Walt plans a retaliation. After some time, though, the police leave and forcibly remove Janovich. When it is dark, as Spider and other gang members are talking on the front porch, Walt appears, then takes out a cigarette as many neighbors look on. As he quietly recites the "Hail Mary," Walt makes a move for his pocket, prompting Spider and the others to spray him with bullets. When the police arrive, they discover that Walt was unarmed and merely holding his cigarette lighter. Because his murder took place within the sight of so many witnesses, Spider and the others are arrested for murder as Sue and Thao arrive, weeping for Walt. On the day of Walt's funeral, his family is surprised to see Thao, Sue and their mother attend the Mass in traditional Hmong dress. As Janovich eulogizes Walt, his barber, Martin and other friends smile as the priest fondly reminisces about him. Some time later, at the reading of Walt's will, it is revealed that he gave his house to the church "because that is what Dorothy would have wanted." His only other bequest is for his friend Thao, to whom he has left his prized Gran Torino. That afternoon, as Thao drives the car along the highway, he smiles at the generosity of his friend and his prospects for the future.