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-Gran Torino (R)

by Dr. D ~

image Theater release: December 12, 2008 by Warner Brothers, Directed by: Clint Eastwood, Runtime: 01:56:00 minutes, Cast: Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Christopher Carley (Father Janovich), Bee Vang (Thao), Ahney Her (Sue), John Carroll Lynch (Barber Martin).

The trailer for the film seems to sell the picture as a ‘Dirty Harry’ character living out his retirement years with a Charles Bronson ‘Death Wish’ neighborhood scenario. The film is far more complicated and presents the main character with a number of different ethical, and religious decisions.

The picture opens with Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) at a funeral for his wife. One can tell right away that Walt is somewhat estranged from his family. At the reception afterwards, his family all seem to want something from him and so does the Priest– Kowalski blows them all away.

Next we see Walt relating to his new Asian neighbors who are trying to introduce themselves–he growls some racist slurs and screams at them–“get off my lawn.” At that point you really don’t see any redeeming side to this man called Walt Kowalski.

However, the writers have set you up to think the worst about ‘Dirty’ Walt–as a down right miserable excuse of a human being. But there is far more to Walt than meets the eye or his well developed rough exterior.

As the story develops, we find out that Walt is a Korean War Vet who came back with plenty of baggage that has never been resolved. His wife was the only really good thing in his life and all he has left is his ’72 Gran Torino that he actually helped to put together while working on the Ford assembly line, his dog Daisy, and his home in an aging neighborhood in the midst of change–all bad from his perspective. Oh yes, then there is his health which is not so good since he is coughing up blood every once in a while.

This is not your usual Clint Eastman action film, though he does make good use of a vintage rifle and a handgun in protecting himself and his neighbors.

He finally does become friends with the teenage girl-Sue next door who sees through his gruff exterior and involves him in a traditional Hmong party. Walt finds out that he does like Asian food after all. When he protects the girl from some African-American gang members, he becomes a hero to his neighbors.

Walt catches the neighbor teenage boy called “Toad” (real name -Thao)—trying to steal his Gran Torino. The boy was pressured into it by the local Hmong gang who was forcing him to join against his will. Walt nearly shoots the kid, who becomes persona non grata until his family offers to have him work off his offence and dishonor. In the process, Walt teaches Toad some skills in maintenance and construction and eventually helps him get a job.

The gang comes back to claim Toad and Walt sends them packing. Then the Hmong gang rapes and beats up Toad’s sister Sue and Toad wants immediate revenge asking Walt to help him get it. Walt tells him to settle down and think it through then locks him away in the basement and leaves to take care of things his own way. But first Walt makes a visit to the young priest that he has been trying to ignore and finally does give his long overdue confessional.

Issues of life and death and what is really important are the themes which run through this untypical Eastman ‘action’ film. In the end Walt does do things his way own way, but is far more caring and sacrificial than ‘Dirty Harry’ could have ever been.          *Top

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