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Gran Torino (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 116 minutes.

Not for children.

As Clint Eastwood has aged, he has gotten progressively enamored with death. “Million Dollar Baby” was his homage to giving up and ended in an Eastwood-approved suicide. Now, in this, he once again embraces death and giving up as a wonderful ending to a movie and message for the living.

Set in Detroit, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a retired worker from an auto plant, recently widowed, unhappy Korean War vet who hates everyone who isn’t white, apparently never having come to grips with what he did in the war. He particularly hates his neighbors, a Hmong family from Vietnam, especially after the son, Thao (Bee Vang), tries to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino in order to initiate himself into a local gang, although much against his will. Walt is befriended by Thao’s sister, Sue (Ahney Her), and his softening up begins.

Suitably softened, Walt takes up the cudgel to defend the Hmongs against the gang that is harassing Thao. This is the old Eastwood of Dirty Harry fame. As such, he’s an appealing misanthrope. He says what he thinks without putting it through a politically correct filter.

The film was written by first-timer Nick Schenk, who wrote it in a bar in Minnesota, where he works. It finally found its way into Eastwood’s hands who accepted it and shot it without changing a word of the script.

Second billed in the film is Christopher Carley, who plays a Catholic priest, Father Janovich.  Carley is just not believable as a Catholic priest, but maybe that’s the fault of the director (Eastwood).

The movie apparently had no Catholic advisor because there are lots of things that Catholics don’t do, like making the Sign of the Cross when they genuflect. Oh, you’ll see a few Catholics do that, but the vast majority don’t. In this film, they all do it.

Eastwood spends almost the entire two hours grunting; the grunts becoming comic relief, much like John Wayne’s constant lament," That'll be the day,” in “The Searchers” (1956). Like Robert Newton’s “Aaaargh” in “Treasure Island” (1950), which has gone down in history, Eastwood’s grunts are well-timed and bring lots of laughs.

Clint gives a good, vintage Eastwood performance, as do Ahney Her and Bee Vang, and the film is entertaining.