Gran Torino ***1/2 (out of ****)

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Nick Schenk
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Brian Howe, Dreama Walker, Scott Eastwood
Rating: R (language throughout and some violence)
Running Time: 116 min
Release Date: 12/17/08

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a retired union autoworker who still lives in the same house for decades. During this time the neighborhood has changed. The whites and the blacks have both moved own and now the Hmong are now the dominant ethnic group. The Hmong are this same people that Col. Kurtz was involved with in Apocalypse Now for reference. Walt’s wife has just passed away and we get to meet his family at the funeral. We soon understand that he is alienated from them and the young priest as well.

Walt is an irascible old codger and would lose to Archie Bunker in a racial tolerance contest. He has a racial or ethnic slur for everyone regardless if friend or foe. So he has little use for the Hmong family next door and feels put upon that they have moved to his neighborhood. He looks at the old grandmother next door and spits. She spits too and Walt seethes. Walt as we soon find out is a Korean War veteran for the 1st Cavalry Division that fought dismounted in that war and was awarded the Silver Star for bravery. Perhaps the growing Asian population his bring back memories of the war than now haunt him? Or, perhaps he has been tormented all of his life? Anyway he is tormented by it now.

Crime is up in the old neighborhood and there is a local street gang and the next door neighbor’s son, Thao (Bee Vang) is related to the gang leader. However, he is timid and don’t seem much of a recruit. Never the less he is shamed into the group briefly and his initiation is to steal Walt’s prized vintage 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Now Walt doesn’t have a 44 magnum but he does have an M-1 rifle. So when he hears the break-in he loads in an eight round clip of 30’06 and heads out to confound the intruder. Thao escapes by turning over a tool cabinet on Walt. The next day there is a disturbance when the gang comes back to punish Thao for his failure and in the process end up beating him on Walt’s lawn. Out come Walt with his M-1 to runs the gang off and in the process rescues Thao from a beating.

Walt soon finds himself showered with gifts of food and flowers from the Hmong ladies. Sue (Ahney Her), Thao’s sister, informs him that he is a hero to the neighborhood for running off the gang. Later Thao is made to confess and to work for Walt to make up for his offense. Thao is given the task of fixing up houses in the neighborhood. As Thao dutifully caries out his assigned chores Walt slowly develops affection for him and eventually helps him get a job. This doesn’t set well with the gang that now targets Thao and his family.

At one segment it almost seemed that Dirty Harry was going to make a comeback seeing as how the M-1 rifle is even more powerful the 44 magnum handgun but that would have little Oscar potential. Also, his late wife had asked their young priest (Christopher Carley) to look after Walt. So this film is head in different direction. These unwanted attentions meet with repeated rebuffs by Walt, who at first insists that he has nothing to confess to 27-year-old virgin just of the seminary. But, we all know that something is eating away at him. And, there is a medical diagnosis too which no doubt effects his choice in the climax of the film.

Gran Torino is a worthy effort by Clint Eastwood in the sunset of his career. He is captures a portrait of a vanishing segment of our population. In a very demonstrative way addresses sensitive issues of racial and ethnic prejudice. Yet at the same time it shows that politically correct hypersensitivity misses (and in my opinion) often stands in the way of inclusion. To simply dismiss Walt as a hopeless bigot is misguided. Eastwood’s effort is a brutally honest film that captures the many of the intricacies of the passing generation’s reactions to cultural change.


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