Tuesday, June 9, 2009

DVD review: "Gran Torino"

Walt, the crusty septuagenarian star of "Gran Torino," is a retired auto worker rather than a cop. But the movie feels like star/director Clint Eastwood's attempt to put his Dirty Harry character out to pasture, permanently.

Walt is pushing 80, recently a widower, doesn't care for the company of his sons or grandchildren, and is pretty much content to sit on his stoop drinking beer and muttering racial epithets at the Hmong immigrant families who have taken over his blue-collar enclave. Call him Dirty Harry on a Pension.

Eastwood seems to have a high old time poking fun at his former film persona. When gang bangers start harassing the teen Hmong boy (Bee Vang) next door, Walt steps in, flashing a rifle and a scowl that scares the interlopers off, at least temporarily.

The heart of the film is Walt's growing friendship with the fatherless boy, and indoctrinating him into the ways of manhood -- or at least Walt's version of it. This consists of taking good care of your car, better care of your woman, and exchanging good-natured but frequent ethnic insults with other men.

The movie builds toward a big shoot-em-up standoff that Dirty Harry would've loved. But Eastwood is older and wiser now, and instead steers the story in a direction that's perhaps unexpected, but which feels just right -- like the satisfying metallic snap a well-made car makes when you close the door.

Extra features are enjoyable, but rather miserly. There are two short featurettes about America's love affair with cars. One includes auto love affairs from the film's cast and crew -- including the revelation that Eastwood opted to keep the 1972 Gran Torino used during shooting -- while the other collects reminisces from regular folks attending a big annual car show in Detroit, where "Gran Torino" was shot.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 1.5 stars

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