The years have been fair to Clint Eastwood. In the twilight of his life he has starred in and directed motion pictures that have garnered massive acclaim, he has won Oscar gold, and with Gran Torino he returns to a tough-and-gruff character reminiscent of the roles of his prime. Directed by and starring Eastwood, Gran Torino is a strong finale in his tough-guy film portfolio.
Gran Torino seems to have been written with Clint Eastwood in mind. An old man with a history as a badass, bitter about society decaying around him while offering up wisdom and lessons in ass-kicking to a boy at a fork in the road. Strangely enough, the film’s setup parallels Pixar’s UP. A man loses his wife and must adjust to life without his spouse, haunted by his past he finds a new beginning through a young man. Clint Eastwood plays a man named Kowalski, a veteran of the Korean War who is less than politically correct. Since his wife’s passing Kowalski is joyless, a man whose greatest pleasure is the company of his dog and bitter banter with his barber.
When Kowalski’s neighbor boy Thao tries to steal his car as a gang initiation (the Gran Torino from the title), it begins a very turbulent and ultimately valuable friendship for both of them. Kowalski has a lot to learn about culture and acceptance, while Thao has a lot to learn about being a man. Early on some of the performances seem stiff, but those performances come to life as the second act reveals a plot rich with obstacles and relationships. Clint Eastwood grumbles through the movie at a low volume that becomes a little annoying and overall he isn’t very convincing with Kowalski’s gunplay, indications that Eastwood’s age is really getting in the way. Age concerns aside, Kowalski is a character you will root for, and Gran Torino is a story worth being told; a story about tolerance and common sense, political correctness and racism.
With mostly muted colors, Gran Torino has a very distinct timeless look that compliments the storytelling nicely. Kowalski’s personality is reflected in the visual look of the film, as the story is presented from his perspective. The image is crisp and clean, with locations brought to vivid life in wide shots. The weathering on Eastwood’s face has never looked more vivid than on this Blu-ray, and the car itself sparkles as an icon of Kowalski’s philosophy. Cinematographer Tom Stern does a wonderful job of keeping the film looking spectacular in the most basic of settings; a basement, a front porch, a dining room, etc. You will be impressed by this drama’s visual presentation.
Gran Torino sports a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack, but rarely gets an opportunity to flex its muscle. As if Kowalski’s constant grumble wasn’t bad enough, the dialogue levels are unusually weak. To clearly make out dialogue you’ll need to really crank your system. Dialogue issues aside, the mix seems natural and content-appropriate. Don’t come to Gran Torino expecting a screaming mix, and don’t use it as demo material for your surround setup. The audio presentation is tolerable, just remember to turn your system down after viewing.
Arriving on a 50GB Blu-ray with a digital copy and a cardboard slip cover, Gran Torino has adequate bonus features. Manning the Wheel: The Meaning of Manhood As Reflected in American Car Culture is a ten minute car documentary, Gran Torino: More Than a Car is a quick four minute look at the importance of the car, and the most satisfying bonus feature, The Eastwood Way, is a twenty minute documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew discussing the film, Mr. Eastwood’s techniques, and various topics of interest.
Over the years I have enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s projects, although I felt Million Dollar Baby, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and Mystic River were all severely overrated. Gran Torino is my favorite Eastwood directorial effort. Humble and focused with dynamic relationships that build and pay off in satisfying ways, Gran Torino provokes thought and adds to my respect for a man who, despite his age, continues to please audiences and critics alike. Gran Torino is a fine film worthy of your attention.
Verdict: 3/5 – “RENT”