Eastwood is Walt Kowalksi, a curmudgeonly old cuss who recently lost his wife and has reached the final chapter of a life largely defined by his haunting experience in the Korean War and his 50 years working at the local Ford plant. His once well-kept working-class Michigan neighborhood has long since fallen into a state of disrepair... he blames the working-class immigrants who've moved in, like the Hmong neighbors who live next door.
The beauty of Eastwood's character and what actually becomes the driving force of the entire film - is the way we're manipulated into caring for him, despite the excessive amount of screen time he spends spitting, grousing and complaining about the poor state of everything around him. He's rude and abrasive and is as comfortable spouting racial epithets as most people are doling out hellos.
Walt finds himself the reluctant father figure of the 16-year-old next-door neighbor Thao, played by newcomer Bee Vang, but not until after the two get off to a bad start when Thao is caught attempting to steal his prized possession... a 1972 Gran Torino. Thao redeems his family's honor by doing chores for Walt and eventually the two begin to finally warm to each other.
Nick Schenk's screenplay is hardly a sophisticated one, and the dialogue sometimes seems a bit extreme and forced... especially Walt's visits to the barbershop where his fondness for ethnic slurs are put on high display. But that's partly what allows Eastwood's character to transition from such a hateful bigot to someone we actually care about. Walt's intolerant ways have been 60 years in the making (some due to his military service where soldiers are taught to hate and kill), so displaying the courage to change is not something that's going to come easy... especially at his age.
Seeing that Thao is really a good kid, Walt takes the youngster under his wing and teaches him the value of hard work, how to take care of one's belongings, and what it means to be a man. Eastwood is an amazing enigma to watch. Initially, we're made to realize that his Walt is as nasty as they come, with very few redeeming qualities. Then as he begins to soften up and understand that he actually has more in common with his immigrant neighbors than he does with his own spoiled rotten, yuppie children, we love him all the more. Walt has changed... and our investment in him has paid off. He's now just a grumpy old bear with a heart the size of Michigan. He's our grandfather, our shop teacher, or the harmless little old man down the street who'd yell at us one day, and teach us how to change a flat tire the next.
Gran Torino is not a perfect film by any means. In fact, the nearly offensive â"man up" scenes in the barbershop are a bit over the top and Walt's constant verbal growling occasionally gets annoying, but we can't help the warm, fuzzy feelings we eventually feel for Walt. And that's what the film is about. It's a character driven drama that ultimately has a lot of good things to say about the human condition. Some may find the political incorrectness unbearable at times, but Eastwood has never before ducked from the complex issues of race, religion, and prejudice, and he certainly doesn't here. If the rumors of this being Eastwood's final turn in front of the camera are true, then Gran Torino is a brilliant send off.
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese.
Language and Sound: English: Dolby True HD; English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; behind-the-scenes featurettes.
oManning the Wheel (9:22)
oMore Than a Car (3:57)
Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging
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