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Mar 14, 2009 at 12:38am IST

Masand's Movie Review: Gran Torino about the redemption of a man

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino stars Eastwood himself as a retired Detroit autoworker and Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski, a grumpy old racist with a formidable scowl and a permanent bad temper. Pissed off at pretty much everyone - from his leechy sons and his late wife's priest, to the immigrants in his neighborhood - Walt sits out on his porch sipping beer when he's not doing house repairs or working on his prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino, a car he helped assemble himself.

When we meet him in the film, Walt is particularly unhappy about the fact that a noisy Hmong family from South East Asia has moved in next door. He calls them 'gooks' and spits contempt every time he spots one of them.

When a fatherless teenager from that family, Thao is persuaded to join his cousin's crime gang, he is required to steal Walt's mint-condition car. Unfortunately for the kid, Walt catches him red-handed. Then when the gang arrives at Thao's home and bullies the kid for being such a sissy, Walt armed with an old army rifle, comes to the family's rescue and becomes a reluctant hero.

The film, as you may have guessed, is about the softening of a man. It isn't long before the gruff old-timer becomes a surrogate father to the shy boy and his sister Sue, who he defends on one occasion from a group of local no-gooders.

The shape of the plot from here on is too convenient and even predictable for words. Yet there is a kind of visceral pleasure to be had in the way Walt snaps into vigilante mode when things go horribly bad. If you look closely you'll notice Gran Torino is really about the redemption of a man who has seen too much death to believe in the blessing that is life. The message of the movie is crystal clear: violence only leads to more violence.

Gran Torino is far from Eastwood's best work, but one can understand why he may have been drawn to it. At 78, he clearly wants to use his voice to tell stories that might help make a difference. His performance in the film can't be faulted, and it is in fact what holds this movie together and never makes it dull or boring even when you may have guessed what's going to happen next.

Clint Eastwood is one of America's great heroes, and a star with abundant charisma; it's difficult to take your eyes off the screen when he's on it. Just watch him in Gran Torino deliver that chilling line of dialogue to a group of trouble-makers: "Ever notice how you come across somebody every once in a while that you shouldn't have effed with? Well, I'm that guy."

It's the line that stays with you long after you've left the cinema, and long after you've stopped thinking of the film.

Three out of five for Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino; simplistic it may be, but boring it's never.

Rating: 3 / 5 (Good)

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