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Gran Torino is a American drama film directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in the film. The film marks Eastwood's return to a lead acting role after four years, his last leading role having been in Million Dollar Baby. The film features a predominantly Hmong cast, as well as Eastwood's younger son, Scott Eastwood, playing "Trey". Eastwood's oldest son, Kyle Eastwood, provided the score. The film opened to theaters in a limited release in North America on December 12, 2008, and later to a worldwide release on January 9, 2009.

The story follows Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean War veteran who is alienated from his family and angry at the entire world. On a dare by his cousin for initiation into a gang, Thao, Walt's young neighbor, tries to steal Walt's prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Walt develops a relationship with the boy and his family. Clint Eastwood has stated that this will probably be his final acting film.

Gran Torino was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $269 million worldwide.

Plot

Walt Kowalski is a retired Polish American Ford factory worker and Korean War veteran, whose curmudgeon nature manifests as an extreme disdain for racial political correctness. He lives with his yellow Labrador Retriever, Daisy, in a Highland Park, Michiganmarker neighborhood, formerly populated by working-class white families, now dominated by poor Asian immigrants and infested with gang violence. The movie begins with Walt attending his wife's funeral, bristling at the eulogy of young Father Janovich, and his own sons, Mitch and Steve, with their equally self-absorbed families. Walt’s poor relationship with his family and his own deteriorating health are shown at various points throughout the film.

A Hmong family, the Vang Lors, live next door to Walt, much to his displeasure. Among the family are teenagers Sue, and her brother, Thao. Thao, a shy teen, is relentlessly pressured to join a local Hmong gang by his cousin, and he eventually agrees to an initiation which requires him to steal Walt’s prized car, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino Sport. Walt, armed with his M1 Garand, interrupts the theft, however, and Thao is forced to flee at gunpoint.

Meanwhile, Father Janovich visits Walt regularly, keeping the promise he made to Walt’s wife to watch over him. Walt is initially reluctant but slowly opens up, revealing that he is still haunted by memories of Korea.

The Hmong gang returns to pressure Thao further and they turn violent when he rejects them. As Thao’s family and other Hmong neighbors attempt to fend the gang off, the fight spills over onto Walt’s lawn. Furious, Walt points his M1 Garand at the gang members and they retreat. The Hmong families are grateful to Walt, and Thao admits that it was he who tried to steal the Gran Torino. Walt demands to be left alone and attempts to reject the gifts continually brought to him by his Hmong neighbors. A few days later, however, Walt rescues Sue from an escalating confrontation with three black men. Sue befriends Walt and invites him to a family barbecue on his birthday. Having just thrown out his son Mitch and his wife, whose half-hearted birthday get-together turned into an attempt to enroll him into a retirement community, Walt accepts the invitation and learns from Sue about Hmong culture and their alliance with American forces during the Vietnam War and subsequent refugee status. Later, Walt develops a relationship with Thao, initially using him to carry out odd jobs around the neighborhood, and eventually getting him a job in construction. He also begins to accept the gifts his neighbors keep leaving on his front porch, particularly the cuisine. Walt goes for a medical checkup and receives results that imply he doesn't have much time left to live.

A short time later, Thao is confronted and mugged by his cousin's gang on his way home from work. Infuriated, Walt confronts one of the gang members, beating him and demanding that they leave Thao alone. The gang responds with a drive-by shooting on the Vang Lor home, and by beating and raping Sue. Thao is furious, and urges Walt to take vengeance with him. Walt agrees but says that careful planning and caution are needed. He goes for a haircut, buys a new suit, goes to confession, gives Thao his Silver Star (he earned it for taking out a Chinese machine gun nest) and later locks Thao in his basement when the teenager shows up to "plan the attack", giving Sue directions to the keys to the basement. Walt finally confesses at this point that during the war, he killed a young Communist soldier around Thao's age who "just wanted to give up," and that he does not want Thao's soul to be tainted like his is.

After Sue releases Thao, Walt confronts the gang members outside their home. Cigarette in his mouth, he asks the gang for a light, and then deliberately reaches under his jacket. His last words are "Hail Mary, full of grace." The gang guns him down, believing he was reaching for a weapon. Walt falls dead to the ground; a Zippo lighter with 1st Cavalry logo is in his hand. Walt had deliberately done this so the gang members who gunned him down would be arrested for killing him in apparent cold blood. The gang, now under arrest, no longer poses a threat to the Vang Lors or the neighborhood due to Walt's sacrifice.

Thao and Sue, along with most of the Hmong community, show up to Walt's funeral dressed in traditional Hmong clothing, with Father Janovich leading the procession. The scene cuts to the reading of Walt's last will and testament, in which Walt leaves his house to Father Janovich's church, and his Gran Torino to Thao (much to the dismay of the survived Kowalski family whose arrogant daughter coveted the car). The movie ends with Thao driving that car off into the horizon, with Daisy (Walt's dog) in the passenger seat.

Cast

  • Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, a bitter, isolated war veteran and retired automobile assembly line worker, who can't get along with his children or his neighbors. Walt at first views his Hmong neighbors as foreign invaders; he further believes that Thao is a coward, especially after he tries to steal his Gran Torino.
  • Bee Vang as Thao Vang Lor, or Toad (in Walt's blunt assessment), a quiet young Hmong who is being coerced into joining the Hmong gang by his gangster cousins. After Thao clumsily attempts to steal Walt's car as part of his forced gang initiation, he returns home instead of fleeing with the gang. After confessing the attempted crime to his family, Thao's mother and sister bring him to Walt to apologize and make amends to the community as Walt's servant. Through Walt, he learns how to do construction work and labor, and how to act like a man, even getting help in his romantic pursuit of Youa.
  • Ahney Her as Sue Lor, Thao's older sister, who is the first of Walt's Hmong neighbors to befriend him after he rescues her. She has a streetwise, witty personality and a strong, independent spirit; she easily gets along with Walt despite his grumpiness.
  • Christopher Carley as Father Janovich, the young priest of Kowalski's neighborhood. Walt claims that he doesn't know anything about life or death, but Janovich gradually learns through speaking with Walt, coming to understand him and his motives. Janovich constantly reminds Walt of his wife's desire for him to go to confession, which he does just before he dies. Janovich, at the end of the film, claims that only after knowing Walt did he really know of life and death.
  • Doua Moua as Fong "Spider", Thao's cousin, who leads a gang of Hmong.
  • Brian Haley as Mitch Kowalski and Brian Howe as Steve Kowalski, Walt's sons, with whom he does not get along very well, and who in turn dislike him.
  • Geraldine Hughes as Karen Kowalski, Walt's daughter-in-law, who shares her husband Mitch's view of Walt.
  • Dreama Walker as Ashley Kowalski and Michael E. Kurowski as Josh Kowalski, Walt's spoiled, vain grandchildren who do not care about him.
  • John Carroll Lynch as Barber Martin, Kowalski's barber, an old acquaintance of his, who helps Thao "talk like a man."
  • Chee Thao as Grandma Vang Lor, The elderly neighbor of Kowalski, who at first hates him the same way he hated his other neighbors.
  • Choua Kue as Youa, a beautiful young Hmong woman, whom Walt convinces Thao to pursue after Walt recognizes her romantic interest in Thao. Walt, in his disdain of the Hmong language, crafts a new nickname for Youa that is both stereotypically Asian and descriptive of her allure: he refers to her as "Yum-Yum."


Production

Gran Torino was directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Nick Schenk. It was produced by Village Roadshow Pictures, Media Magik Entertainment and Malpaso Productions for film distributor Warner Bros. Eastwood also produced alongside Malpaso partner Robert Lorenz and Bill Gerber. The original script was inspired by inner-ring suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, but filmmakers chose to produce Gran Torino in the state of Michiganmarker, becoming one of the first films to take advantage of the state's new law that provided lucrative incentive packages to film productions. Filming began in July 2008; locations included Highland Parkmarker, Detroitmarker, Center Linemarker, Warrenmarker, Royal Oakmarker, and Grosse Pointe Parkmarker, Michiganmarker. Hmong crew, production assistants, consultants and extras were used.

In the early 1990s, Schenk became acquainted with the history and culture of the Hmong while working in a factory in Minnesotamarker. He also learned how they had sided with the South Vietnamese forces and its U.S. allies during the Vietnam War, only to wind up in refugee camps, at the mercy of northern Communist forces, when American troops pulled out and the government forces were defeated. Years later, he was deciding how to develop a story involving a widowed Korean War veteran trying to handle the changes in his neighborhood when he decided to place a Hmong family next door and create a culture clash. He and Dave Johannson, Schenk's brother's roommate, created an outline for the story. Some industry insiders told Schenk that he could not produce a film starring elderly characters as it could not be sold. Through a friend Schenk sent the screenplay to Warner Bros. producer Bill Gerber. Eastwood was able to direct and star on the project as filming for The Human Factor, eventually to be retitled Invictus, was delayed to early 2009, leaving sufficient time for filming during the previous summer. Eastwood said that he had a "fun and challenging role, and it's an oddball story."

Warner Bros. suggested that the movie should be shot in Michigan due to tax rebates intended to lure television and film productions to the state, and as a result of this incentive, most of the movie was filmed in Highland Park, Michiganmarker. Producer Robert Lorenz said that while the script was originally set in Minnesota, he chose Michigan as the actual setting as Kowalski is a retired car plant worker. Eastwood wanted Hmong as cast members, so casting director Ellen Chenoweth enlisted Hmong organizations and set up calls in Detroitmarker, Fresnomarker, and St. Paulmarker; Fresno and St. Paul have the two largest Hmong communities in the United States, while Detroit also has an appreciable population of Hmong. Chenoweth recruited Bee Vang in St. Paul and Ahney Her in Detroit.

Release

Theatrical run

In the film's opening weekend of wide release in the U.S., it grossed $29.5 million; as of August 21, 2009, has taken in $269,541,625 worldwide.

Home media release

The film was released on June 9, 2009 in the United States in both standard DVD format and Blu-ray. The disc includes bonus materials and extra features. A featurette is included and a documentary about the correlation of manhood and the automobile. The Blu-ray version presents the film in 2.40:1 ratio format, a digital copy, and the audio in multiple languages.

About 3,751,729 DVD units have been sold as of November 1, 2009 generating $56,684,999 in revenue. This does not include Blu-ray sales.

Reception

Reviews

After seeing the film, The New York Times noted the requiem tone captured by the film, describing it as "a sleek, muscle car of a movie made in the U.S.A., in that industrial graveyard called Detroit". Manohla Dargis of the Times compared Eastwood's presence on film to Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name, stating, "Dirty Harry is back, in a way, in Gran Torino, not as a character but as a ghostly presence. He hovers in the film, in its themes and high-caliber imagery, and of course most obviously in Mr. Eastwood’s face. It is a monumental face now, so puckered and pleated that it no longer looks merely weathered, as it has for decades, but seems closer to petrified wood." The Los Angeles Times also praised Eastwood's performance and credibility as an action hero at the age of 78. Kenneth Turan said of Eastwood's performance, "It is a film that is impossible to imagine without the actor in the title role. The notion of a 78-year-old action hero may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Eastwood brings it off, even if his toughness is as much verbal as physical. Even at 78, Eastwood can make 'Get off my lawn' sound as menacing as 'Make my day,' and when he says 'I blow a hole in your face and sleep like a baby,' he sounds as if he means it." Roger Ebert wrote that the film is "about the belated flowering of a man's better nature. And it's about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century."

However, not everyone enjoyed the film. Mark Harris, columnist for Entertainment Weekly, described it as "fantasy pretending to be social commentary," and accused it of peddling "the delusion that even the bigot next door has Something to Teach Us All about heroism and self-sacrifice," adding "No, he doesn't." Conversely, Nicole Sperling, also of Entertainment Weekly, perceived it in the exact opposite manner. She called it a drama with "the commercial hook of a genre film" and described it further as "a meditation on tolerance wrapped in the disguise of a movie with a gun-toting Clint Eastwood and a cool car."

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 79 percent of critics gave the film positive write-ups, based upon a sample of 201, with an average score of 7.1/10. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 72, based on 33 reviews.

Awards and nominations

Gran Torino was recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the Ten Best Films of 2008. Clint Eastwood's performance has also garnered recognition. He won an award for Best Actor from the National Board of Review, he was nominated for the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics' Choice Awards) and by the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards for Best Actor. An original song from the film, "Gran Torino", was nominated for the Golden Globe Awards for Best Original Song. The music is by Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood, and Michael Stevens, with Cullum penning the lyrics. The Art Directors Guild nominated Gran Torino in the contemporary film category.

The film, however, was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the 81st Academy Awards when it was not nominated for a single Oscar, which led to heated criticism from critics, who felt that the Academy had also deliberately snubbed WALL-E, The Dark Knight, and Revolutionary Road from the five major categories.

References

  1. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2008/GTORN-DVD.php
  2. "All Rags, No Riches" By Mark Harris - EW.com
  3. "Adult Dramas in Decline" By Nicole Sperling - EW.com


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