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Gran Torino (2008)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/9/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/4/2009

Available on iTunes

With all of the chaos which we see in everyday life, from something as big as global economic problems to something as little as trying to get the kids out the door and to school, there is something inherently satisfying about seeing something come full-circle and be complete. Clint Eastwood shot to stardom with his 1971 film Dirty Harry, in which he portrayed a cop who doesn't play by the rules. Years later, he would gain accolades, awards, and respect as a director. Now, at age 79, Eastwood brings it all home by directing himself in a film where he plays a character who could easily be described as a geriatric Dirty Harry.

Eastwood stars in Gran Torino, as Walt Kowalski, an aging Korean War veteran and retired auto worker who lives in Detroit. As the film opens, Walt's wife has just died and he's now alone. He's estranged from his yuppy sons and only has his dog, Daisy, for company. Walt keeps his house and yard in impeccable condition and he doesn't like the fact that so many immigrants have moved into his neighborhood. Other than his dog and his peace & quiet, Walt's prized possession is his mint-condition 1972 Gran Torino. Little does he know that his neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang) tried to steal it as part of a gang initiation. When Walt sees the gang threatening and pushing Thao, he grabs his rifle and intervenes. This makes him a hero in the eyes of the local Hmong community, and he's showered with gifts and invitations to meals. Thao's sister, Sue (Ahney Her), pesters Walt until he finally agrees to attend one of their parties. Much to his surprise, he finds himself enjoying the attention that he receives and he soon begins to mentor Thao. However, Walt's actions towards the gang angered them and they soon return for revenge.

Given his clout, I realize that Clint Eastwood could probably get any project made that he wished to, but I still would have loved to have been at the meeting when he was given the greenlight to make "Grumpy Old Men meets Dirty Harry meets Death Wish". If you can't guess from that last sentence, Gran Torino is sort of an odd movie. It's a character study which becomes a drama which then borders on being an action movie. And somehow, it nearly works.

The most successful aspect of Gran Torino, both in the sense of acting and writing, is the character of Walt Kowalski. Here is a man who is who he and he doesn't care what anyone else thinks about him. He is an unabashed racist and insults everyone that he meets. (I can only imagine that Screenwriter Nick Schenk made a list of every racial slur of which he could think and attempted to get them all into the script.) At first, Walt is inscrutable and unlikable, but as he changes, our feelings towards him change as well. Kudos to Eastwood (who seems like a nice, laid-back guy in interviews) for portraying Walt as tough-as-nails and unwavering in his beliefs. Eastwood puts his trademark scowl to good use, as Walt glares at everyone around him. The story takes some dramatic leaps and having Eastwood in the role makes them much more believable.

Speaking of the story, it's sort of all over the map, and this is Gran Torino's one short-coming. The first act, where we first meet Walt and learn about his lifestyle, feels genuine, and the last act, where Walt puts his experiences as a man and soldier to use, feel genuine, but the middle simply falls flat. The way in which Walt gives in to Sue and suddenly becomes involved with his neighbors isn't satisfying and while the movie certainly isn't fast-paced, it all feels very rushed. The movie also leaves out some important details which could have helped the story. Clearly, Walt's wife was his whole life and he's very lonely now that she's gone. But, we never know if he was more social towards others when she was around or if she ever got to know the neighbors. Also, the gang which is after Thao is very underwritten and comes across as a very stereotypical urban gang. Why do they want Thao to join so badly when he clearly doesn't have any interest?

Despite these shortcomings, Gran Torino is still worth seeing just to see Eastwood doing what he does best. Going into the movie, I knew little about it, and I was caught off-guard by the movie's violence. The story has some poignant moments, but it's the resurrection of Dirty Harry which will have you wanting to take a spin in this Gran Torino.

Gran Torino pulls a loaded finger on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, as it shows no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The image is very crisp and lifelike, most notably in the daytime scenes. The colors look great and the image is never too dark or bright. The level of detail is impressive (look at the creases in Eastwood's face), as is the picture's depth. The Disc holds a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, this is a quiet, dialogue-based film. We do get some moments and nice stereo effects and a gunfight scene provides impressive surround sound.

The Gran Torino Blu-ray Disc contains three extras. "The Eastwood Way" (19 minutes) is a fairly detailed look at the making of the film. The piece focuses on Eastwood, but it also examines the script, the cast, and the film's production. It's interesting to see how Eastwood looks younger in the making of than he does in the film. "Manning the Wheel" (9 minutes) begins with a discussion of the Gran Torino in the film, and then segues into an examination of America's obsession with cars. "Gran Torino: More Than a Car" (4 minutes) takes us to the Woodward Dream Cruise, which is a gathering of car enthusiasts.

Warner Home Video has also brought Gran Torino to DVD. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, but it's also lacking in detail and soft when compared to the Blu-ray. Still, the colors look fine. The DVD provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Again, this is a fairly quiet film, but we do get audible dialogue with no hissing here, and gunshots sound good.

The extras on the DVD are the same as those found on the Blu-ray Disc, with the exception of "The Eastwood Way".

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long