Korean War vet and retired autoworker Walt Kowalski doesn’t much like how his life or his neighborhood has turned out. He especially doesn’t like the people next door, Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia. But events force Walt to defend those neighbors against a local gang that feeds on violence and fear.
Read my review of the DVD after the jump.
Official Site Link: www.thegrantorino.com
Release Date: June 9, 2009
Simply put, Gran Torino is an outstanding film. Clint Eastwood’s back in his first acting role — he also directed, produced, and composed a song — in four years (since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby) and he doesn’t disappoint in any aspect. Surprisingly enough, although the film would go on and become Clint’s highest-grossing film ever it was overlooked at Oscar time.
But enough with that. Getting down to the basics, Clint Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, an often times detached and lonely Korean war veteran. The film opens at the funeral of Walt’s wife and right away you get a glimpse into his disgruntled demeanor as he looks on disapprovingly at the attire and lack of respect shown by his grandchildren something not helped by his poor relationship with his two grown children (something we learn he genuinely regrets allowing to occur).
On the other side are Walt’s neighbors, a Hmong family (the Hmong people fought alongside the Americans in Vietnam) including siblings Sue and Thao. At first Walt is just as standoff-ish towards the family as he would be anyone he dislikes and he has no issue spouting off curse words and racial slurs towards them, plainly expressing his desire to have them leave town. Part of the charm of the film, however, is that even when Walt is showing such disdain, it’s done so in an charming sort of way.
The key to the film is the relationship and friendship that grows between Walt and his next door neighbors Sue and her brother Thao. There is a gradual warming up that occurs thanks in large part with his relationship with Sue who sees Walt as someone better than he sees himself. She shows concern for him and a genuine desire to be a friend. That allows for Walt to open up and feel more comfortable around her and her family which in turn leads to the key friendship in the film between Walt and Sue’s brother Thao, who is being bullied by an Asian gang.
The Ford Gran Torino plays a huge role as well. Walt helped to build the vehicle during his years as a worker at the local Ford assembly line. The car, which Walt pours all his love and devotion into, is most important in that it again helps forge a relationship between himself and Thao.
Like any great film, Gran Torino stays with you long after the credits roll (which by the way tie into the theme song “Gran Torino”, co-performed by Clint Eastwood). It’s a strongly cast and well-performed character-driven drama that shouldn’t go unwatched.
Despite how thoroughly entertaining the main feature is, the special features are a let down. It’s very surprising the point expressed above about this being Clint’s first acting role in four years which likely helped fuel it to become his best-grossing one yet ($148.1M domestic/$263.2M worldwide). Regardless, there are only two extras on this disc (Side Note — The Blu-ray edition of this film contains an exclusive featurette called “The Eastwood Way” focused soley on Eastwood).
- Featurette – “Manning the Wheel” (9-minutes) — A collection of short interviews with the cast and crew, including Clint Eastwood, talking about their first car as well as their dream car. The feature also touches briefly into the relationship the car plays with helping Walt get closer to Thao.
- Featurette – “Gran Torino: More Than a Car” (4-minutes) — Filmed at the annual Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan — where Gran Torino was filmed — this featurette focuses on the bond that forms behind men and their cars and their relationships with their fathers.
- Digital Copy — There’s an insert included with the DVD containing a code to download digital copy of the film.
The film is excellent. The supplemental package? Not so much. It’s because of the weak extras that I don’t give this DVD a higher score, but based on the film alone I highly recommend it. I give this film and DVD a score of 4/5, with a insistence on that major caveat. Through and through, Gran Torino was one of my favorite films of 2008 and remains one of my favorites. It’ll make a well-deserving addition to your DVD or Blu-ray collection.