If you're a fan of car films, you've probably seen Gran Torino, the smart, gritty drama from 2008 directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski, lives in a working class Michigan neighborhood that's gone steadily downhill. A curmudgeon and Korean War vet, Kowalski keeps mostly to himself, until one day he's pushed to defend his neighborhood and a young friend from a band of thugs.
On Monday, Brooklyn resident Thomas Dunikowski had his own Gran Torino moment. According to reports, a gang of teens was ripping open garbage bins and kicking cars in Dunikowski's Marine Park neighborhood. Dunikowski got into a fight with one of them, then returned to his house, cracked open a window, and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon. No one was killed, but two of the marauding teens were wounded.
Many people would label Dunikowski as a criminal, but at least one neighbor -- Larisa Kaprovskaya -- has called him a hero for defending the area in the wake of inaction from the local police: "He shot because he wants to protect us. I don't know what would have happened to us if he didn't try to protect us." Kaprovskaya's reaction is doubly remarkable because her daughter was injured during the shooting, having taken some chipped asphalt to her leg.
Whether you view Dunikowski as a Bernard Goetz-style vigilante/hero or a deranged psychopath, you have to admit that the timing of the incident is a little ironic. On the same day that Hollywood mourned losing one of its younger stars to (what appears to have been) reckless behavior, life imitated art in a very different way.