As Gran Torino starts, Walt Kowalski will accept nothing less than Mr. Kowalski when being addressed. Anything else offends him, and he is not the type of man to let that slide. He’s bitter, angry, and racist, irritated with the world around him.

As he is introduced to a Hmong family next door through a series of circumstances, something slowly changes his perspective. Suddenly, Walt becomes an acceptable means of calling for him. In time, he breaks down his barrier enough to be called Wally by the young neighbor’s daughter.

It’s a fantastic, subtle transformation, handled in numerous ways. Walt, played wonderfully and without anything held back by Clint Eastwood, visits his neighbors who are hosting a large family get together. He accepts a beer from them, despite not being his favorite brand. His snide comment towards the drink is ignored, and he sits down while the family allows their elder Shaman to discuss his past life. He sets the beer down, legitimately listening to his words being translated by the daughter.

Prior to this, Walt held a gun to their son Thao’s head. His cousins, members of a local gang, dared Thao to steal Walt’s 1972 Gran Torino. The car is a critical storytelling piece, and much like the changes in how he allows himself to be addressed, he slowly lets go of the car as well.

Gran Torino flirts with various tones, and that is admittedly confusing. Walt’s overtly racist attitude is obviously played for comedic effect, but it is undoubtedly part of him and his personality. How he sees people is not amusing, but how he chooses use that to his favor is. It is a fine line for sure, one that will offend some while others begin to understand and process why Walt is the way he is.

Even as he befriends young Thao, he still uses racist slang and calls him “Toad.” At first, it’s offensive to the young teenager, but he grows to understand Walt, as should the audience. Bee Vang as Thao delivers a rather terrible performance (his screen debut), yet the impact is hardly subdued. Instead of turning his head away from people as he does in the beginning, he looks them in the eye, legitimately happy until tragedy strikes.

Gran Torino is poorly billed as a revenge movie, and while some of Eastwood’s classic characters are present in some limited form, Walt fires a single bullet in the entirety of the movie. The trailers may pride themselves on conflict, yet Gran Torino offers far more than revenge.

Take the scene where Thao follows Walt to the latter’s longtime barber Martin, played by John Carroll Lynch. Walt is trying to toughen Thao up to be a man. After a friendly yet profanity-laced exchange between Walt and Martin, he asks Thao to re-enter the shop to introduce himself like a man.

Thao walks out, turns around, comes back in and screams at Martin an offensive string of words. Martin grabs a shotgun to point at Thao’s face, horribly offended by what was said. Walt calms him down, and reassures Thao that it is safe, but he screwed up. He needs to take things slow, introduce himself gradually to reach the point where friendship makes the conversation is acceptable.

It’s a funny sequence, one that entertains and is crucial for another purpose not long after. Yes, seeing Eastwood point a M1 Garand at a gang member and mumble, “Get off my lawn,” is amusing, as if the above sequence. If that is all you can take away from the film though, then you’ve missed the point. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Gran Tornio carries some problems to this Blu-ray edition. Facial detail is lackluster, if present at all. There are definite problems with over processing and maybe a smidgen of DNR applied, which gives the film a murky look. Extensive shimmering on car grills and striped shirts supports this theory, along with a near total lack of film grain.

Contrast is also too strong, blooming and blotting out additional detail. This is likely intentional, as a bright color palette is used throughout. Sharpness is high without visible edge enhancement, and deep blacks create sufficient depth in the image. While not awful, it also fails at delivering a striking, clean, and natural film-like picture. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]

Warner offers a TrueHD mix, filled with extensive surround use when heavy gunfire is present, including a spectacular audio force during a drive-by shooting. Surrounds and stereo channels are used effectively here, although somewhat flat elsewhere. Minor audio cues, such as cars passing by or doors closing, are noted. However, even these are somewhat inconsistent. Dialogue is clear and nicely worked into the mix. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]

Extras a basic and brief, beginning with a standard 20-minute making of, The Eastwood Way. General discussion of the project, costumes, finding actors, and more are detailed. Manning the Wheel focuses on the car the film is named after, while another four minute featurettes talks about America’s general love affair with vehicles. Generic BD-Live support ends a rather boring set of special features. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]


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