film review: Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood directs himself in this film (with a screenplay by Nick Schenk) about an angry Korean War veteran, Walt Kowalski, living in Michigan. The film opens to a funeral scene for Walt’s wife. He growls and grunts as he watches his grand-children entering the church wearing belly-piercings and football jerseys. The strained relationships with his sons and their families are transparent at the gathering post funeral. Later, a young priest, who befriended Walt’s wife, keeps coming around to visit Walt. Walt calls him an “overeducated 27-year-old virgin.” Walt enjoys sitting on his front porch with a cooler of beers, his dog at his side, watching the cars go by. He’s not happy that his neighborhood has turned “ethnic” but he refuses to leave. In his spare time he heads to the VFW to hang with his buddies where they knock a few back and joke around, using all sorts of ethnic slurs in the name of good fun.

What begins as somewhat of a Dirty Harry caricature turns endearing as he bonds with his Hmong neighbors. Though initially he calls them every derogatory name possible and yells at them to stay off his lawn, he cannot help but become enmeshed in their lives. Walt is happy with his insular life until a gang rolls up and comes a bit to close to his house. And then worse, to his prized possession: his mint 1972 Gran Torino. When he sees the daughter, Sue [the delightful and spirited Ahney Her], being harassed out on the street, he drives up and scares some boys away and the two become unlikely friends. He begins to enjoy the companionship of Sue and her relatives. He declares he has more in common with them than “his spoiled family.” The clash of cultures has funny and touching moments. The shared moments with Sue, Thao and their family awakens in Walt something that may have been lost a long time ago. He mentors the young boy of the family, Thao [played honestly and even-tempered by Bee Vang]. He treats him like a son and teaches him to fix things and use tools and get a job as a construction worker. Then heroically, ingeniously saves him from a gang. It’s a heartwarming film that I highly recommend.

STEELE SAYS: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE

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