Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran who dislikes his new neighbors from Asia. Despite his efforts to distance himself, he soon finds himself protecting the family from a violent gang, despite his racism-fueled personality.
The jersey Walt's grandson wears at the funeral is that of former Lions wide receiver Roy Williams.
Clint Eastwood is Walter Kowalski, a curmudgeonly octogenarian recently widowed and living alone besides his dog Daisy in a the Detroit suburban neighborhood predominately now inhabited by a rising poor Hmong population. During the reception following his wife's wake, Walt is confronted by her priest, Father Janovich ( Christopher Carley). It was her wish that the priest get Walt to confess. As per usual, Walt verbal abused the Father and stated clearly he does not want to confess anything to someone so young and inexperienced. He also shuns his remaining family, which include two sons, and they equally meet his disdain. One granddaughter ( Dreama Walker), who very visibly annoys Walt, even tries to parley his most prized possession, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, when he dies.
Next door to Walt is the Vang Lor family that is comprised of mainly woman and one male; Grandma Vang ( Chee Thao), Vu ( Brooke Chia Thao), Sue ( Ahney Her), and Thao ( Bee Vang). Walt wants nothing to do with the family, perhaps in part due to his racism and history with being in the Korean War. Thao has been harassed by his cousin Fong ( Doua Moua) and his lackeys after they "save" him from some black guys. They try to persuade him to join their gang. Their initiation is to steal Walt's "sweet ride". When Thao tries to that evening, Walt catches him in the act (not knowing who he is) and is distracted long enough for Thao to flee.
An evening later, the gang shows up and forcefully manhandle Thao in front of his house and onto Walt's lawn. This prompts Walt to confront both the gang members and the Vang Lor family with a military rifle. After this confrontation, the Asian community begins to revere Walt for his actions in protecting Thao and his family from the hoodlums. The community begins bringing offerings to Walt's porch, which he promptly disposes of. Vu, Sue, and Thao come over and explain the situation. Thao also wishes to make amends, but Walt will have none of it. Father Janovich also shows up, having heard about the incident, and redoubles his effort to have Walt confess. Walt still refuses.
During Walt's birthday, his son Mitch ( Brian Haley) and his wife Karen ( Geraldine Hughes) show up. They try to persuade Walt to enter a retirement home, but they leave in a huff, obviously rebuked for their efforts. Later that day, Walt sees Sue and her "boyfriend" being harassed by three black men. Walt drives up and, after pantomiming that he draws a gun before actually drawing one, saves Sue. During their drive back home, he gradually learns about Sue and her family, seeming to warm up. She later invites him over to her home where there is a party going on. Despite some missteps, Walt seems to enjoy himself, especially bantering with Sue and Thao.
The next day, the Vang Lor family finally gets Thao to begin working for Walt. He makes Thao start fixing up the house across the street, which has been an eyesore to him for years. Even after his penance is up, Thao still continues to visit and help Walt. He eventually teaches Thao how to be more "manly" and gets him a job through some favors at a construction site. Everything seems to be going well for Thao until his cousins game starts harassing him again. Also during this time, Walt has found out he has a very serious medical condition. He seems to try reaching out to his son Mitch, but they are too busy for him, so he lets it go.
Perhaps because of this mortal revelation, Walt besides to take matters into his own hands in regards to the gang. He visits Fong's residence, waits until almost all members are out of the house, and physically assaults Smokie ( Sonny Vue), Fong's right-hand man. He beats him badly and tells him that they need to stay away from the Vang Lor family.
This action has the opposite effect, however, as Fong and his gang do a drive by of the Vang Lor home. They shoot it up with semi-automatic guns. Walt grabs his sidearm, but when he gets outside, the gang is gone. He quickly goes to the Vang Lor home and finds that Thao has been shot, though it only grazed his throat. Vu and Grandma were okay. When Thao tries to call and see where Sue is, he looks worriedly at Walt. Later that even, she eventually shows up. She has been badly beaten and probably raped. Walt realizes this resulted from him and goes to his house to comtemplate his next move. Father Janovich shows up, having been to the Vang Lor family's home to console them. He knows that Walt wants to retaliate and tells Walt that Thao has been sitting outside waiting for Walt to rise up. The following day, Walt goes through a series of events: he buys a tailor-made suit, he goes to Janovich to confess, and he gives his dog to Grandma. Thao comes over to join Walt in his revenge. However, Walt locks him in the basement, since he doesn't want Thao to have to live with knowing he killed someone. Thao is highly irritated. Walt leaves, but calls Sue to tell her where Thao is. At Fong's home, Father Janovich has been waiting with two police officers, since he believes Walt is going to try something. They have to leave on orders from their commander, though, and also are told to take the Father with them.
Walt shows up and instigates the gang to come out on to the front yard. This confrontation brings other people from their homes to see what is going on. Walt verbally pokes and prods the gang members until he eventually goes for something in his pocket. Fong and the others open fire on him, believing he is pulling out a gun. In reality, it was his lighter. Thao and Sue show up finally, but Walt is being taken away in a body bag. Fong and his gang are being arrested. An officer tells Sue that they will go away from a long time since witnesses are all to happy to come forward.
At Walt's funeral, not only do his sons and their families show up, but also Sue, Thao, and a large portion of the Hmong neighborhood. Father Janovich provides the sermon. At the reading of his will, Walt gives his home to the church and his Gran Torino to Thao, visibly upsetting his family. Thao, however, couldn't be happier. The final scene is of Thao driving the Gran Torino with Daisy in the seat next to him.
Reception, Box Office, & Awards
The movie received great praise upon its release. It currently holds a 80% "fresh" rating at reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, stating of the film that "Though a minor entry in Eastwood's body of work, Gran Torino is nevertheless a humorous, touching, and intriguing old-school parable."
A few choice blurbs:
"A brilliant commentary on a lot of earlier Clint Eastwood roles." - Richard Roeper
"It is familiar, but only to a point. Suddenly, that point is past and much more serious questions come up, questions of responsibility, of vengeance, of the efficacy of blood for blood." - Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
"Gran Torino is alive to the web of racial and ethnic discontent in this country, but the script by Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson has a tin ear." - Ty Burr, Boston Globe
"By the time it jolts to an ending, followed by Clint rasping a tune to the closing credits, you're more likely to be rolling your eyes than dabbing them." - Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail
"A thoughtful work that continues the actor/director's remarkable late-career surge." - Peter Howell, Toronto Star
The movie was made on a reported budget of about $33 million and made nearly 10 times this amount in gross revenue worldwide. It was in theaters for 27 weeks from December 12, 2008 (limited) until June 18, 2009. It's domestic take is estimated at $148 million and foreign at $122 million with a total of around $270 million. It reached a peak of #1 in its first week in theaters, but failed to reach #1 again. The next two weeks, it was beaten by Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
The American Film Institute (AFI) recognized in its Ten Best Films of 2008.
Clint Eastwood won Best Actor from the National Board of Review.
Eastwood nominated for Best Actor of both Broadcast Film Critics Association and Chicago Film Critics Association Awards.
The song sung by Eastwood at the end of the film, "Gran Turino", was nominated for Best Original Song from the Golden Globe Awards for 2008.
The movie itself was nominated for Best Contemporary Film by the Art Directors Guild.