REEL CRITIC:

Clint Eastwood is back with a vengeance, but you can save yourself if you purchase a ticket for “Gran Torino.” It’s a powerful new release with an important message that should be a front runner for a golden statue when Academy Award nominations are announced.

Eastwood stars as a recently widowed Korean War veteran named Walt Kowalski, and Walt is having some serious issues with Asian immigrant families taking over his rundown Detroit neighborhood one house at a time.

His painfully shy neighbor, a Hmong boy named Thao, tries to impress some gang members by stealing Walt’s prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino, but the old grizzled vet catches him in the act.

In a unique and fascinating twist of fate, Walt and the boy’s family become good friends. Walt tries his best to reform Thao by helping him avoid the dead-end existence of joining a gang while teaching him real life skills and the American way.

Can Walt overcome his racist mind set and connect with a group of people he doesn’t understand? How many original, offensive and surprisingly humorous slurs can the 78-year-old actor spout out during the 116-minute film? These questions are easily answered, and only one question remains — will Eastwood win another Oscar?

Walt decides to take law enforcement into his own weathered hands to fight gang activity on his street. Eastwood’s award-worthy performance is very reminiscent of the Dirty Harry character he made into an icon in the 1970s.

If you liked those offerings, you have to see “Gran Torino” just to hear the 30 to 40 quotable lines he has while dealing with numerous uncomfortable and sticky situations. Granted, many of these lines will offend minority groups, but please remember that Eastwood is playing a character, and his “blue” vernacular is an integral part of the story line.

Amazingly, Eastwood is also the director, and the entire production is smooth and well shot. The film stock quality is gritty and adds a vintage touch to the overall experience. Solid musical choices and a poignant closing-credits song featuring Eastwood on vocals brings everything to a tight closure but leaves room for discussion.

“Gran Torino” is a wonderful movie that will surely appeal to veterans and older Americans who have lived through wars. People who are not native to the States will also enjoy the story about diversity, tolerance and working hard for a living. Thankfully, Eastwood doesn’t hit you over the head with a political message, and much of the movie is sprinkled with humor as Walt stumbles through life while trying to understand a misguided Asian youth.

Eastwood steals the show with his performance, but the supporting actors also carry their weight. Relative unknown Christopher Carley shines as a young priest determined to talk Walt out of doing anything stupid. Does he succeed? You’ll have to see the film to find out.

Due to the rough language and violence, the movie is rated R, but I’ve seen much worse, and I think teens will be able to handle the material if chaperoned by an adult. The serious plot could also open up a dialogue with your child if you are so inclined.

As I drove away from the theater in my foreign car, I thought of only one thing — to spread the word about this significant film.

Clint Eastwood is a living legend, and “Gran Torino” adds to his legacy.


 MATT BELLNER is an actor from Burbank. His uncle is a Korean War veteran.

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