A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though this drama is about a prejudiced character coming to know and accept people of another race, it's loaded with racial invective and harsh racist language aimed at a broad spectrum of groups. Star Clint Eastwood's character isn't much of a role model, either -- unrepentantly grumpy, smoking, and drinking throughout the film -- and while he ultimately learns to respect some of his Asian neighbors, many other Asian characters (and some African American and Latino ones) are depicted as gang members and criminals. The movie is also remarkably violent in spots, with bloody beatings and brutal shootings depicted realistically and unflinchingly. All of that said, the underlying message is one of acceptance and understanding.
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What's the story?
In GRAN TORINO, Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran shattered by his wife's recent death. Walt is a harsh, ramrod-straight man with a quick temper and high standards whose greatest joy is an orderly home and his beloved, mint-condition Gran Torino. When a clash between the quiet teen boy next door and the local Asian gangs spills onto Walt's property after the gang coerces the boy into trying to steal the car, Walt faces them down with his trusty M-1 rifle ... and becomes a hero to the local Hmongs who have slowly filled his neighborhood in the past few years. As Walt mentors the boy, Thao (Bee Vang), and becomes a gruff father figure, he also becomes closer to sassy older sister Sue (Ahney Her) -- and a threat to the gangs who live in the area and want to punish Walt, Thao, and Sue for standing up to them.
Is it any good?
Gran Torino, which Eastwood has said will mark his last acting role, succeeds in many areas while falling flat in others. It's not a grand farewell, but it is a good, solid drama about understanding, repentance, tolerance, and change. Eastwood directs with his usual understated mastery; the film looks terrific, and Eastwood gets good performances out of his supporting cast. Regrettably, the same can't be said for Eastwood's own performance; his work as Walt is a little flat and obvious. Even when Walt is at his most angry and bitter, we're still comforted by Eastwood's familiar manner and way, as if he's too much of a star these days to truly be an actor, too much of an icon to inhabit a role.
Gran Torino does get points for trying to talk about race and class at a time when too many mainstream films ignore and shun tackling such tough real-world concerns. Walt does come to know, understand, and like some of his Hmong neighbors; he also gets to know, dislike, and understand the local Asian gang. But Gran Torino includes a few too many dramatic coincidences to be truly satisfying, and the film's dramatic tone and tenor means that those who come to it looking for a straightforward action drama may be bored by the talky parts -- and those who come to it looking for a high-minded drama may be put off by the gritty violence and blunt language. Gran Torino is a well-made, somewhat pedestrian film by a Hollywood legend; at the same time, it's hard to imagine it receiving as much interest and acclaim if Eastwood wasn't involved.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's message. Is it clear that it's ultimately about tolerance?
What does Walt learn during the movie? How can that be applied as a broader lesson?
Parents, ask your teens how hearing all of the racist language in the movie makes them feel -- does it help expose and undermine stereotypes, or is it offensive?
How does Walt change over the course of the movie? Do you think the ending is realistic? Did Walt make the right choice? Also, are his acts of self-defense to protect his home, his car, and his neighbors justifiable?
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