Sunday, 22 January 2012

Gran Torino (2008)

Gran Torino is a 2008 American drama film directed by, produced by, and starring Clint Eastwood. The film marks Eastwood's return to a lead acting role after four years, his previous leading role having been in Million Dollar Baby, and Eastwood has stated that this is his final film as an actor. The film features a large Hmong American cast, as well as one of Eastwood's younger sons, Scott Eastwood, playing Trey. Eastwood's oldest son, Kyle Eastwood, provided the score. The film opened to theaters in a limited release in North America on December 12, 2008, and later to a worldwide release on January 9, 2009.

The story follows Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean War veteran who is alienated from his family and angry at the world. Walt's young Hmong neighbor, Thao, is pressured into trying to steal Walt's prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino by his cousin for his initiation into a gang. Walt then develops a relationship with the boy and his family.Gran Torino was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $260 million worldwide.

The Plot

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a gruff retired Polish American Ford factory worker and Korean War veteran, has recently been widowed after 50 years of marriage. His neighborhood near Detroit in Highland Park, Michigan, formerly populated by working-class white families, is now dominated by poor Asian immigrants, and gang violence is commonplace. He vehemently turns down a suggestion by one of his estranged sons to move to a retirement community, and lives alone with his labrador retriever, Daisy. Walt suffers from coughing fits, occasionally coughing up blood, but keeps this from his family. Father Janovich, the young Catholic priest in whom his wife had confided, tries to comfort him, but Walt openly disdains the much younger, inexperienced man.

The Hmong Vang Lor family resides next door to Walt. Initially, he wants nothing to do with his new neighbors, particularly after he catches Thao attempting to steal his beloved 1972 Ford Gran Torino as a coerced initiation into a Hmong gang run by Thao's cousin. The Hmong gang is infuriated and attacks Thao, but Walt confronts them with an M1 Garand rifle and chases them off, earning the respect of the Hmong community. As penance, Thao's mother makes Thao work for Walt. Walt has him do odd jobs around the neighborhood, and gradually the two form a grudging respect for each other, aided by Thao's sister Sue. Walt helps Thao get a construction job and gives him advice on dating a popular Hmong girl, Youa, who Walt nicknames "Yum Yum."

The gang continues to pressure Thao and assaults him on his way home from work. Walt sees Thao's injuries and goes over to the gang members' house, beating up one of the gang. In retaliation, they perform a drive-by shooting on the Vang Lor home, injuring Thao, and kidnap and rape Sue. The next day, Thao seeks Walt's help to exact revenge. Walt tells him to return later in the afternoon. In the meantime, Walt makes preparations, buying a fitted suit, and making a confession to Father Janovich. When Thao returns, Walt takes him to the basement and shows him his Silver Star, which he gives to Thao. Walt tricks Thao, locking him in his basement, and tells him that he has been haunted by the memory of killing an enemy soldier, which he had not confessed to Janovich, and insists that Thao must never experience killing another person.

Walt drives to the house of the gang members. When they spot him, they draw their weapons. Walt talks loudly, drawing the attention of the neighbors. He puts a cigarette in his mouth and asks for a light. He then slowly puts his hand in his jacket and provocatively pulls it out. The gang members all begin firing their guns at Walt, killing him. As he falls to the ground, his hand opens to reveal a lighter; Walt was unarmed. Sue frees Thao and they drive to the crime scene in Walt's Gran Torino. A Hmong police officer tells them the gang will be imprisoned for a long time for murder due to the number of willing witnesses.

Walt's funeral is attended not only by his family, but also by Thao, Sue, and many of the Hmong community, with Father Janovich officiating. Afterward, Walt's last will and testament is read. To the surprise of his family, Walt leaves his house to the church and his cherished Gran Torino to Thao. As the film ends, Thao is seen driving the car along Lakeshore Drive with Walt's dog, Daisy.


After seeing the film, The New York Times noted the requiem tone captured by the film, describing it as "a sleek, muscle car of a movie made in the U.S.A., in that industrial graveyard called Detroit." Manohla Dargis compared Eastwood's presence on film to Dirty Harry and the Man with No Name, stating, "Dirty Harry is back, in a way, in Gran Torino, not as a character but as a ghostly presence. He hovers in the film, in its themes and high-caliber imagery, and of course most obviously in Mr. Eastwood’s face. It is a monumental face now, so puckered and pleated that it no longer looks merely weathered, as it has for decades, but seems closer to petrified wood." Paul Ashbourne, a respected movie critic, gave the film 9.5/10, stating "Eastwood has done it again! Though different from classic Eastwood films, Gran Torino once more depicts the 'tough guy' that is Clint Eastwood, with a story that keeps us excited, and brings out emotion even in the hardest of people." The Los Angeles Times also praised Eastwood's performance and credibility as an action hero at the age of 78. Kenneth Turan said of Eastwood's performance, "It is a film that is impossible to imagine without the actor in the title role. The notion of a 78-year-old action hero may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Eastwood brings it off, even if his toughness is as much verbal as physical. Even at 78, Eastwood can make 'Get off my lawn' sound as menacing as 'Make my day,' and when he says 'I blow a hole in your face and sleep like a baby,' he sounds as if he means it." Roger Ebert wrote that the film is "about the belated flowering of a man's better nature. And it's about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century."

However, not everyone enjoyed the film. Mark Harris, columnist for Entertainment Weekly, described it as "fantasy pretending to be social commentary," and accused it of peddling "the delusion that even the bigot next door has something to teach us all about heroism and self-sacrifice," adding "no, he doesn't." Conversely, Nicole Sperling, also of Entertainment Weekly, perceived it in the exact opposite manner. She called it a drama with "the commercial hook of a genre film" and described it further as "a meditation on tolerance wrapped in the disguise of a movie with a gun-toting Clint Eastwood and a cool car."

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 80% of critics gave the film "Certified Fresh" positive write-ups, based upon a sample of 211, with an average score of 7.1/10 and the site's consensus stating: "Though a minor entry in Eastwood's body of work, Gran Torino is nevertheless a humorous, touching, and intriguing old-school parable." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 72, based on 33 reviews.

The Cast

Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski
 Christopher Carley as Father Janovich
 Bee Vang as Thao
 Ahney Her as Sue
 Brian Haley as Mitch Kowalski
 Geraldine Hughes as Karen Kowalski
 Dreama Walker as Ashley Kowalski
 Brian Howe as Steve Kowalski
 John Carroll Lynch as Barber Martin
 William Hill as Tim Kennedy
 Brooke Chia Thao as Vu
 Chee Thao as Grandma
 Choua Kue as Youa
 Scott Eastwood as Trey (as Scott Reeves)
 Xia Soua Chang as Kor Khue
 Sonny Vue as Smokie
 Doua Moua as Spider
 Greg Trzaskoma as Bartender
 John Johns as Al
 Davis Gloff as Darrell
 Thomas D. Mahard as Mel (as Tom Mahard)
 Cory Hardrict as Duke
 Nana Gbewonyo as Monk
 Arthur Cartwright as Prez
 Austin Douglas Smith as Daniel Kowalski
 Conor Liam Callaghan as David Kowalski
 Michael E. Kurowski as Josh Kowalski (as Michael Kurowski)
 Julia Ho as Dr. Chu
 Maykao K. Lytongpao as Gee

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