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Gran Torino (Blu-ray Review)

4 Jun, 2009 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Gran Torino

Street 6/9/09
Box Office $148 million
$27.95 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language throughout and some violence.
Stars Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her.

It’s no surprise Clint Eastwood’s 53-year acting career would culminate with box office and critical hit Gran Torino. Quite simply, his is a performance of a lifetime.

Eastwood (who turned 79 on May 31) plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Detroit autoworker whose acid-tongue animus toward minorities and cultural change is superseded only by a deep self-loathing scowl embalmed by horrific memories from the Korean War.

It doesn’t matter that the immigrant family living next door is Hmong, refugees from Southeast Asia who fought alongside Americans against the Viet Cong. To Kowalski, they are just as bad as the enemy.

When Hmong gangbangers pressure teen Thao (Bee Vang) to steal the old man’s cherry 1972 Gran Torino, all hell breaks loose. Will the ghosts of Dirty Harry, Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales awaken to enact sweet vengeance?

What becomes apparent is that Kowalski is less Inspector Harry Callahan and more journalist Steve Everett from True Crime, who races against time to save an innocent man from lethal injection. The sympathetic transformation is aided in part by Thao’s street-smart sister (Ashley Her, who along with Vang make their acting debuts) and boyish Father Janovich (expertly cast Christopher Carley).

In addition to a requisite digital copy and BD Live functionality, exclusive to Blu-ray is “The Eastwood Way,” a 20-minute tribute that more fawns over than explores the reticent actor/director’s filmmaking process. Eastwood is famous for working quickly, requiring few takes and coming in under budget and deadline — qualities better explained elsewhere.

Separate featurettes (also found on the DVD) include “Manning the Wheel: The Meaning of Manhood as Reflected in American Car Culture” and “Gran Torino: More Than a Car,” which quixotically lavish too much attention on what is really nothing more than a stage prop in the movie.

A glaring omission is any mention of Nick Schenk, the little-known screenwriter who hand-wrote the oft-rejected Torino script (he actually wanted a Ford) over several years while holed up in a Minnesota bar. How it ended up in the hands of Eastwood would be fodder to any aspiring scribe.

Maybe we’ll find out someday on BD Live.

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