Gran Torino

I’m still completely stunned that this film didn’t get as much acclaim as I thought it would.  It was virtually shut out of all the major award shows, to the point that I started thinking it was some kind of conspiracy against Clint Eastwood and his phenomenal streak of films. In his last acting role, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a crusty, racist Korean veteran who becomes involved in the lives of his Hmong neighbors.

After just losing his wife, Walt has to face his life alone. His kids and grandkids are spoiled and selfish, caring more about looting Walt’s home and claiming his vintage Gran Torino. He’s the last white guy in a Detroit neighborhood that has seen better days. The real heart of Walt isn’t his gruff exterior, though. He’s a man who has seen great loss and destruction in war, and has not been able to let go of it. While he derides a young priest for knowing nothing of life or death, Walt himself knows nothing of life, or living. He’s gone through the motions, married, started a family, worked hard, but he now has no emotional ties to this world.

That is, until he meets his neighbors. After he breaks up a fight between young Thao and a gang trying to forcibly recruit him, Walt becomes the reluctant neighborhood hero. People drop off food and flowers, to Walt’s annoyance. Thao’s sister brings Walt out of his seclusion, befriending him and inviting him into her home. Walt discovers he has more in common with these people he has scorned his whole life than his own family. He takes Thao, a wimpy kid with no paternal influence, under his wing and teaches him to be a man.

Thao has a lot to contend with though, and it becomes quickly apparent that left on his own, he will be forced to join his cousin’s gang. After the gang attacks Thao’s family, Walt takes matters into his own hands.

This is where I think the movie transcends from good to great. Yes, if he was Dirty Harry he would go to the gang and shoot them all up to kingdom come. But he’s not. I like to think he’s older and wiser than Harry Callahan. He’s seen more of the world, and he knows that while it does help to walk softly and carry a huge ass gun, he also knows that violence just begets more violence. It’s not the expected, “American” type outcome that people probably expected, which may account for the lack of buzz surrounding the film.

Where other critics have seen exaggerations or parody, all I see is a man trying to find some way to leave the world a better place before he dies. There’s nothing exaggerated about that.

The one part of the film that resonated most with me is that in life sometimes you have to make your own families. It’s not the people who share your blood that are necessarily your only family. It’s the people you connect with, the people who share your life. Eastwood also addressed this issue to a certain degree in “Million Dollar Baby.” In both films the lead’s blood family is just so awful you cringe every time they do something. Maggie’s family visiting Disney Land before visiting her in the hospital, and Walt’s granddaughter more concerned with texting, and scoring the Gran Torino and his couch than in offering her condolences for the loss of his wife.

The DVD release continues this BS Warner Brothers streak of releasing very few special features on the DVD, while including more on the Blu-Ray version. I get it! You want us to switch to Blu-Ray! Man, I still have my damned HD-DVD player and a dozen HDDVDs. You need to make it worth my while first. Anyway, the DVD has two short features about cars as they relate to “Gran Torino” with very little insight or meaningful content. It’s fluff, and not even the good kind.

“Gran Torino” was released on DVD June 9th. You can buy the DVD from Amazon.com.

Rating: A