DVD REVIEW: ‘Gran Torino’

grantorinodvdDVD Overall: C-

Film Grade: C+

When I first saw Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino in December of last year, I imagined it would be better to use as a drinking game than a film to appreciate (every time there’s a shot of Hmong people doing something stereotypically Asian, followed by a shot of Clint Eastwood growling, take a drink). However, I noticed something about the reception of the movie both last winter and recently with its DVD release. When I talked to older moviegoers like my dad and grandfather, they loved the film. It was my dad’s favorite of the year and there even seemed to be a pattern where older critics gave the film more positive ratings than younger ones did. Younger audiences like my friends and I thought the film was silly and not worthy of a second look.

After a second viewing of the film on DVD, I am beginning to see why it was appreciated by people of my parents and grandparents generations.

The film follows geriatric Walt Kowalski as he struggles to exist in a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly unfamiliar. His wife recently passed away and all of his neighbors have moved or died leaving the racist Walt surrounded by the growing Hmong community. He doesn’t have a relationship with his family, he doesn’t get along with his neighbors and his few friends are becoming more distant. His loneliness has inspired hatred and he uses racism as an outlet for his fear.

Walt inadvertently becomes involved in the Hmong community when he intervenes to stop a Hmong gang from harassing his young neighbor. An unlikely friendship develops between Walt and the Hmong family next door as both sides come to understand each other and unite against the common enemy – crime in their neighborhood.

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Apart from Eastwood, the acting in the film is mostly poor. Most of the actors were not professionals and this movie gave them their first acting job. What is lacking most is emotion and creativity behind the text – the lines often sound like they’re being read off the script and pronounced like somebody else told them how to do it. The biggest culprits are the members of the Hmong gang, who came across as unintimidating and clownish.

It doesn’t help the new actors that screenwriter Nick Schenk’s dialogue is hilariously bad. It often sounds more like an afterschool anti-gang PSA than a feature film. I live in a diverse area of a large city and I have never heard even the most thuggish characters repeatedly call something “whack.” Also, when my grandfather banters with his friends it can get pretty racially insensitive, but I’ve never heard them use as many gratuitous racial slurs as Walt and his buddies do.

However, if you are able to overlook the film’s many flaws it does have something that certain audiences can appreciate. It helps create a better understanding of people like Walt, or my grandpa, who use baseless racism to help deal with their fears. Walt is a man attempting to hold on to his cherished past in a world that he no longer understands. The culture he has known is gone and replaced by one completely different from his own. His family is distant and he watches as youth rebel against their elders. Men like Walt have a hidden fear of technology and different cultures and he uses racism as an outlet for that fear. The Gran Torino is Walt’s connection to the world that he knows.

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Special Features Grade: D

Clint Eastwood has become pretty notorious for his lack of DVD special features and this film is no exception. There is no commentary track, no trailers or photos, and what is there, leaves a lot to be desired. There are two featurettes, Manning the Wheel (9 min.) and Gran Torino: More Than a Car (4 min.) neither of which tell much about the making of the film or the people involved, but rather focus on the car.

Manning the Wheel features some mildly interesting interviews with Eastwood, writer Nick Schenk, producers, and actors. However, they mostly tell us things we already knew about the plot and then focus on what the car symbolizes as part of the story.

Gran Torino: More Than a Car mostly pays tribute to the car in the movie and for only a 4-minute featurette, still seems too long and uninteresting. Considering the movie was not really about the car, the special features seem a little off-target.

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  • you really need to have a commentary track on a DVD

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