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Gran Torino

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Starring Clint Eastwood.
Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood.
Story by Dave Johannson and Nick Schnek.
Screenplay by Nick Schenk.
112m. Rated R.

DVD Reviewed by Peter Veugelaers

It would be funny if Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski on the cover of the DVD package of Gran Torino actually wore a white collar like a Catholic priest does. It just looks like there is one around his neck. A trick of the mind, perhaps, and I was duped by the shadow. What a priest he would be and it is nothing like Father O’Malley from Going My Way.

There is a battle of wits between a Catholic priest and the character, Walt, which Clint really plays. But I can imagine what kind of priest Clint could make in this screen incarnation. Even though the priest is told, in Walt’s direct way, to leave him alone, he is persistent. Salted with humor, Walt’s manner and cynical attitude towards the priest is amusing at first. However, the Dirty Harry persona becomes contrived after a while.

What is distinctive about the Clint Eastwood films since Mystic River is their character. They are solid, which is a reflection of Clint’s personas on screen: tough, uncompromising and honest yet hiding a raw nerve which gets pricked by what’s happening around him and which he instinctively hides.

Gran Torino gives Clint back his signature style, this time as the grumpy Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who is retired from car manufacturing at Ford. His down-to earth style and knowledge – he has a myriad of tools in the garage, built up during 50 years - gives the character centering and trustworthiness. He lives next door to Hmongs from Asia. Far from reaching out to them, he can’t tolerate them or the Catholic priest that comes around after his wife’s funeral. A boy from the Hmong family next door gets bullied into joining the violent local gang. His task to earn respect is to break into Walt’s grand possession, the 1972 Gran Torino he keeps in the garage. Needless to say, Walt isn’t happy. When he protects a girl from the neighbors they bring him thanksgiving food. Like in Mystic River a man should protect children and not abuse them.  Walt’s burgeoning relationship with the family leads him to getting involved with the boy’s future, his tool collection, and the neighborhood gang problem which is a constant source of tension.

The slower middle shows a more sensitive side to proceedings when Walt mellows. The middle is designed that way for a reason when later on the audience is led into an emotionally packed climatic sequence that relates skillfully to the middle.

It is not that Walt hates Catholicism. The priest and Walt are both given room for growth and they seem to agree: salvation is hard and facing violence harder than cruising Walt’s Gran Torino, a source of escapism. As the saying goes - by God’s grace, go I. The message about divine forgiveness and inner peace that leads to laying someone’s life down for the peace and life of the neighborhood, when the odds are stacked against it, will get you talking.  

Skillfully designed and beautifully filmed, Gran Torino is provocative without easy solutions to the predicament of violence which requires more than conviction – it requires commitment.

Gran Torino Trailer:

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Amazon.com

Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, an unassuming picture shot during a post-production lull on his elaborate period piece Changeling, was quietly rolled out at Christmastime 2008, whereupon it proceeded to blow away all the Oscar-bait behemoths at the box office and win its 78-year-old star the best reviews of his acting career. Both film and performance are consummately sly--coming on with deceptive simplicity, only to evolve into something complex, powerful, and surprisingly tender. Just as Unforgiven was a tragic reflection on Eastwood's legacy in the Western genre, Gran Torino caps and eloquently critiques the urban heritage of Dirty Harry and his violent brethren. And on top of that, the movie becomes a savvy meditation on America in a particular historical moment, racially, economically, spiritually. Call it a "state of the union" message. But call it that with a wry grin.

The latest Dirty Harry is actually a grumpy Walt: Walt Kowalski (Eastwood playing his own age), widower, Korean War veteran, retired auto worker, and the last white resident of his Detroit side street. It's hard to say who irks him more--his blood kin (a pretty lame bunch) or the Hmong families who are his new neighbors. Kowalski's a racist, because it has never occurred to him he shouldn't be. Besides, that's the flipside of the mutual ethnic baiting that serves as coin of affection for him and his working-class buddies. Circumstances--and two young people next door, the feisty Sue (Ahney Her) and her conflicted brother Thao (Bee Vang)--contrive to involve Walt with a new community, and anoint him as its hero after he turns his big guns on some ruffians. The trajectory of this may surprise you--several times over. Eastwood opted to film in economically blighted Detroit--a shrewd decision, but it's his mapping of Walt's world in that classical style of his that really counts. Every incidental corner of lawn, porch, and basement comes to matter--and by all means the workshop/garage that houses the mint-condition Gran Torino which Walt helped build in a more prosperous era. This is a remarkable movie. --Richard T. Jameson

Product Description

A disgruntled Korean War vet, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski's prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino.
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