Gran Torino (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the latest feature from director Clint Eastwood...
Walt Kowalski (Clint Eatwood) is a retired Ford worker and Korean War veteran struggling to come to terms with the recent death of his wife, his ungrateful children, and the Hmong immigrants who now populate his once all-white neighbourhood. When Walt's teenage neighbour Thao (Bee Vang) is pressured into joining a gang, his initiation is to steal Walt's prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino. However, Walt has other ideas, and scares Thao away with his military-issued M1 Garand. Unhappy with his failure and subsequent refusal to join them, the gang drags Thao off of his porch and begins to beat him. Despite the intervention of Thao's family—chiefly his fiesty sister Sue (Ahney Her)—it falls to Walt to defend the youngster with his rifle. When the Hmong hear of Walt's act of 'bravery', they begin to leave gifts on his porch, much to his chagrin.
Although he initially wants nothing to do with his neighbours, when Walt happens across Sue being accosted by a gang of youths he intervenes, and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship. On Walt's birthday, Sue invites him to her house for a family barbecue, explaining more about Hmong culture and introducing him to some of their respected elders. When Thao's mother discovers that her son tried to steal Walt's car, she arranges for the boy work for Walt for two weeks to make amends. Walt has Thao clean up the neighbourhood until his debt is paid, at the same time acting as a father figure by helping him get a job in construction and find the courage to ask out a girl that he has a crush on. Slowly, the curmudgeonly, racist Walt begins to realise that he has more in common with his Hmong neighbours than his own selfish family.
I've never really followed the films of Clint Eastwood, but I really enjoyed Gran Torino. I can understand the criticisms that it's just two hours of Eastwood grunting with some questionable acting from the Hmong, but to be perfectly honest with you I wasn't bothered by any of that when I saw the film theatrically and it didn't bother me on my second run through either. Eastwood seems to be playing Walt as ‘Dirty Harry: The Twilight Years’, which leads to some amusing moments. While it’s true that the Hmong actors lack the polish of professionals, I thought that their lack of experience actually helped sell their relationships with Walt, particularly Ahney Her, who seems to have come in for the most criticism despite being incredibly likeable in her role. There are some genuinely touching moments between Walt and the kids that I just don’t think would have rung true if their characters had been portrayed by professional Asian actors, which more than made up for the occasional piece of stilted dialogue.
Gran Torino arrives with a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p VC-1) that looks pretty damn great. Obviously this is largely to be expected for such a recent film, but I was pleasantly surprised nonetheless. In keeping with the theatrical experience, colours are fairly muted, but this is a stylistic choice and as such it can't be faulted. Even so, there are enough splashes of colour here and there to keep the picture from looking drab. Detail is exceptionally strong throughout; you can literally pick out every line and crack on Walt's face and every fleck of peeling paint on the sides of the neighbourhood houses. There's no sign of edge enhancement or grain reduction; in fact grain is light and consistent throughout. Blacks are also nice and deep, with great shadow delineation. I’m not going to ramble on about this transfer in the way that I have in some of my recent reviews, because there’s really not a lot to dissect or criticise. Gran Torino looks fantastic on Blu-ray, which is all you really need to know.
It’s a Warner disc, so that pretty much guarantees a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Obviously Gran Torino isn’t the most lively of films, being as it is a predominantly dialogue-driven affair, but the TrueHD track handles the subtle nuances well. Although not particularly conspicuous, there is a surprising amount of discrete action, which ranges from simple things like the door of the church creaking during the opening scenes and crickets chirping in the darkness, to panning effects as cars move around the soundstage. Bass is fairly restrained, although the sound of a car stereo provides a limited opportunity for the track to flex its muscles in this area, while the low-key score provides a solid accompaniment to the action. However, the real star of the film is the dialogue, which is always perfectly balanced in the mix, never once becoming indistinct (unless of course Walt is muttering under his breath). It’s never going to replace the latest big-budget action movie as your demo disc of choice, but Gran Torino is a marvellously understated aural experience.
The Eastwood Way (19:17 HD): The most comprehensive extra on the disc is an almost twenty minute ‘making of’. It covers all of the usual bases, including the script and Eastwood’s involvement, the casting of the Hmong actors, costume design and the shooting. Obviously at a little under twenty minutes the featurette isn’t the most comprehensive document of the filmmaking process, but it does pack a fair amount into the short running time. However, I would have really enjoyed a more thorough exploration of the process, in particular some more footage from the casting sessions and the day-to-day events on the set.
Manning the Wheel (09:23 HD): This featurette examines the relationship between Walt and his Gran Torino by way of interview footage with Eastwood and members of the cast and crew. As someone who doesn’t ‘get’ cars, I have to admit to being perplexed by everyone’s passion for motor vehicles (for me, they get you from A to B in a timely fashion, but that’s about it). One of the common myths seems to be that having a flash car gets you laid more often, something that Ahney Her (Sue Lor) is quick to dismiss.
Gran Torino: More Than a Car (03:57 HD): Like me, you could be mistaken for thinking that this is a featurette about the Gran Torino. It’s actually a wider-ranging featurette that talks to people at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit about their love of cars. For my thoughts on this, see the above featurette, because it covers much of the same ground (substituting average Joes for the actors).
BD-Live: Annoyingly, the BD-Live features for Gran Torino require you to register with Warner Brothers before you can view the content. I tried to register via the disc, but no confirmation email arrived, so I ended up registering via the Warner BD-Live website. For Christ’s sake people, why do you have to make it so difficult to view the bloody bonus material? As it happens, none of the BD-Live features are available at the time of writing, but I’ll update this portion of the review as soon as they come online.
Gran Torino is a terrific character-driven piece of cinema and one that thoroughly deserves its place among the best films of 2008. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it deserved more recognition than it got, especially when compared to some of the films that were nominated for Best Picture. Warner's Blu-ray release is a little thin on bonus material—at least until the additional BD-Live features come online—but the superb visuals and solid audio presentation go a long way towards compensating and I have no qualms whatsoever about recommending this disc.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 29th June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, English SDH, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: The Eastwood Way, Manning the Wheel, Gran Torino: More Than a Car, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her, Bee Vang
Length: 117 minutes
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