"Gran Torino" Blu-ray Review
May 26, 2009 by Zach Demeter
With Gran Torino painted as Clint Eastwood’s final acting role, anticipation for this film was high. Although it was rumored to be another Dirty Harry film, those rumors eventually proved false as the film would ultimately have nothing to do with it…and also put Eastwood in a very different role. Although he once again plays a Korean War Veteran and acts in his usual bad-ass manner, it’s a much quieter and more character driven role than previous Eastwood outings. Indeed, it may be one of the softest “action” roles that Eastwood has ever taken part in. While Eastwood is director and star of the film, the story makes full use of its supporting cast, although considering how many of them are relative newcomers or unknowns, there wasn’t much fuss made about their roles, as big as they are.
A disgruntled Korean War vet, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski's prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino.
That very brief synopsis should tell you that the films premise is incredibly simple. As I said before the cast is large, but it’s no one you’ll have ever seen before (except maybe John Carroll Lynch, who has been in such films as Fargo and Zodiac) and as such this allows the film to feel relatively weightless. Sure, Eastwood’s star is weighing the film down with his prowess and magnitude, but the addition of an absolutely fantastic looking Gran Torino helps balance out the things to gawk at on screen.
The majority of the film is Eastwood acting like a crotchety old man (that scene from the trailers where he tells the kids to get off his lawn still makes me crack up) towards his Hmong neighbors. It’s such a fantastic paradigm, however, as the film makes no effort to hide the humor of a legendary “bad boy” like Eastwood playing a gun wielding Korean veteran that yells at the kids in his neighborhood. It’s really just a fantastic character piece if nothing else, as the film is highly enjoyable and never once feels sluggish or impractical.
Of course there is drama mixed in throughout the humor and general antics of the neighborhood. The Hmong teenager he is trying to help is constantly harassed by his older cousin who is in a dangerous gang. The gang is known for disturbing the peace and perpetrating violence throughout the neighborhood and as a result they draw the immediate ire of Eastwood’s character. On top of that they attempt to steal his Gran Torino, which does nothing else but make him even angrier…but it sets in motion the events of the film in such a beautiful way.
Really, there’s not much to talk about in the film as it is relatively simple. It bathes in the questions of life, death, and religion (the film starts out after a funeral, after all) and for as much as it makes you laugh or entertains you with its simplicity, it also makes you think and dwell on the nature of human beings. Having said all of this, the film isn’t completely perfect; while I had no issue with any of the acting in general with the film, some of the Hmong teenager’s yelling and screaming at the end of the film was a little too hysterical. It slipped in and out of realism and it was really a hard scene for me to peg down in terms of if it was actually mediocre or if it that was just the proper reaction. It was the boy’s first film, so I’ve got nothing to compare it to. Also the end song with Eastwood singing is a bit overly gravely, but it’s also touching in a small way as well.
In the end the film is dramatic, funny, and heartwarming, as it shows the bonds of family are not necessarily the strongest and sometimes it’s just your neighbors that can be closest to you. Without a doubt it is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and if you weren’t one of the many who helped bring this $33 million budgeted film to a worldwide total of nearly $250 million, then do yourself a favor and check it out when it releases onto DVD and Blu-ray. This really is a Highly Recommended film.
The film arrives in a standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray case (second disc is the digital copy) with the usual inserts for firmware notices as well as the redemption code for the digital copy. Disc art is simple and mimics the cover art, while the menus…well, there isn’t much of a menu. As is usual with Warner Blu’s, the film auto-starts so there’s nothing to see much aside from a quick pop-up menu.
Arriving in a VC-1 encoded transfer, film looks absolutely stunning. As you’d expect from a modern film, but the detail levels are high and you can count every wrinkle on Eastwood’s face and see reflections in the Torino’s shiny body with ease. The color level of the film is slightly washed out at times, with either a brown or blue hue draped over each scene…but this isn’t really a downside as it gives the film the necessary look it was going for. So while the detail and scenery is beautiful to look at, the colors aren’t necessarily “true” to what we perceive them as. But, again, that’s just the look the film was going for and I think it looks fantastic in 1080p. Also included is the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, but since this is a dialogue driven film for the most part, there isn’t much separation from the front channels. The family gathering sequences are quite nice in the surrounds and whenever a gun is fired (which is rarely) there’s enough impact and force behind it to make it sound appropriately menacing.
Moving onto the extras…there isn’t a wealth of goodies here, but this isn’t really a film that requires it. Unlike the Oscar nominations it received (of which it received none…I mean, really? None?!), however, there are at least a few featurettes. First up is Manning the Wheel: The Meaning of Manhood as Reflected in American Car Culture (9:23, 1080i) where the cast and crew discuss the history of the muscle cars as well as what each member would indulge themselves in given the chance. Following this is Gran Torino: More than a Car (3:57, 1080i), which again talks about cars, but in a much shorter run time. Now on the DVD edition those would be the only extras to get, but for the Blu-ray release the The Eastwood Way: Exploring the Actor/Director's Filmmaking Process Up Close (19:17, 1080i) featurette is included as well. This acts as our mini “making-of,” and since there’s no commentary, this is about the only look into the production of the film that we get (that isn’t related to the car, anyway). All three of the extras are worth watching, but it really is a shame we don’t get something more, such as a focus on the score (composed by Eastwood’s son) or…well, anything, really.
Still, this is a Recommended release, simply because it’s such a fantastic movie. Eastwood’s films are never known for their robust extras (although Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers were pretty loaded as I recall) and a commentary really would have rounded out the extras nice…but, oh well. I’ll take what I can get. As I said before it’s a simple film, but the entertainment lies in its simplicity and character interactions.
Gran Torino arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on June 9th.