Warner Bros. // 2008 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 9th, 2009
Don't touch his car.
"I'll blow a hole in your face and then go inside and sleep like a baby."
Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby) is not a particularly happy man. His wife of many years has just passed away, and he doesn't have a very good relationship with his children. Walt lives in a predominantly Asian-American neighborhood, and regards his neighbors with bitter disgust. As Walt is both a racist and a generally unfriendly fellow, he doesn't have many friends. He seems to be a man beyond redemption, the sort of cranky old codger who inspires apologetic statements like, "Well, you just have to understand, he's from a different generation."
One night, Walt hears a noise in his garage. He grabs his shotgun and goes to investigate, and discovers a neighborhood boy attempting to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino. Walt angrily chases the boy away. A few days later, he hears something else going on. He goes outside, and discovers a group of local thugs beating up on that very same boy and his sister. Walt scares them off and, by doing so, unintentionally wins the respect of his neighbors. Begrudgingly, Walt gets to know his neighbors just a little bit, and even ends up becoming a mentor for the young man who tried to steal his car. However, it quickly becomes evident the gang members are not simply going to let the kid off the hook. Their acts of violence and aggression continue to escalate, and soon Walt realizes he's going to have to take drastic action.
It has been said that Gran Torino may very well be the last onscreen performance from Clint Eastwood. If that's true, it's a fitting concluding note. In many ways, Walt Kowalski is a distillation of Eastwood's screen image. He's angry, bitter, tough, violent, and frustrated with the sort of "punks" who go around messing up society. Of course, Eastwood has played many characters that are nothing like this, but this is perhaps the persona that people remember Eastwood for. If Unforgiven was a final statement on The Man with No Name, then Gran Torino is a final statement on Dirty Harry.
Throughout Eastwood's career, the theme of righteous rage and vengeance has frequently played some sort of role. However, Clint has grown increasingly reflective and complex as he's aged, and here creates an interesting scenario: he must find a way to save the kid from the local thugs. At first, we expect him to just do what Detective Harry Callahan would do and take them all out. Walt is certainly a man capable of doing such a thing, but this film is looking at the bigger picture. There's no question that he could kill those punk kids, but how can Walt solve this problem without destroying what's left of his soul?
Eastwood's portrayal of the character is very much inspired by Dirty Harry, but Gran Torino is by no means a sixth installment in that particular franchise. The movie is not fueled by action and violence, but rather by relationships and moral questions. There are antagonistic scenes between Walt and a young priest that reminded me a good deal of similar scenes in Million Dollar Baby. Their scenes together provide conversations about some of the bigger questions the film is addressing: life, death, forgiveness, redemption, and vengeance. The resolution the film ultimately provides is a satisfying one, though it may anger some audience members. Eastwood thinks a man like Walt can still find redemption, despite leading a life full of bitterness and hatred. Some may feel Walt doesn't deserve to be redeemed, and his behavior is nothing more than a cheap route to feeling better about himself as a human being. Whether you agree or disagree with the conclusion, Gran Torino offers a good bit to chew on, as most Eastwood films do.
The hi-def transfer here is very impressive, allowing the slightly gloomy yet crisp visual vibe of the film to really set the atmosphere effectively. The level of depth here is very impressive, with superb delineation during the darker scenes in the film. Varying shades of black and white play a major role here, and fortunately the transfer excels on both sides of the visual spectrum. The level of detail is strong both in terms of facial and background detail, and flesh tones are accurate. Just great work all around as far as I'm concerned. The same applies to the audio, though this is a fairly quiet track despite the somewhat violent nature of the film. The gentle score by Kyle Eastwood weaves throughout the speaker system with gentle effectiveness, and the few loud moments impress well enough. Everything is clean and clear throughout. Eastwood's deep growling sounds particularly strong.
Sadly, as with far too many Eastwood releases, we get way too little in the way of supplements here. At least those who purchase the Blu-ray disc get an exclusive 19-minute featurette called "The Eastwood Way," which spends most of its time covering the casting decisions. Eastwood elaborates on why he decided to return to acting after vowing to stay behind the camera. It's a very compelling piece that is surprisingly meaty and informative. The other two featurettes are quite insubstantial. "Manning the Wheel" (9 minutes) is a bland little piece about the connection between manhood and automobiles, while "Gran Torino: More Than a Car" (4 minutes) is a quick look at the title vehicle. The disc is equipped with BD-Live, and a Digital Copy is also included. This is a disappointing batch of supplements with only one noteworthy item (which makes me feel really bad for those who purchase the DVD instead of the Blu-ray).
Gran Torino is a good film featuring a superb performance from Eastwood, but doesn't quite rank among the actor/director's best works. Like Walt, the movie is a little rough around the edges. There are a few miscalculated scenes involving the friendly exchange of racial epithets. These should either be very funny or painfully uncomfortable, but for some reason they feel precocious. In addition, some of the supporting performances seem a tad too amateurish at times. There are individual lines here and there which feel inauthentic, mostly due to unconvincing delivery. These awkward missteps prevent the movie from hitting great heights.
Despite the occasional flaws, Gran Torino delivers where it counts. The first act which establishes Walt is quite strong, and the third offers an excellent and unavoidable conclusion. There's enough good stuff peppered through the middle to keep the film afloat during the rough patches. The greatest pleasure is seeing Eastwood, who has hit a new peak of rough charisma. It's great to hear that rumbling growl, even if it is just one last time. The Blu-ray transfer is a knockout for those who only care about the film, though lovers of supplements will undoubtedly feel let down by the slim offering here.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy