gran-torino-1-1024Gran Torino” might as well been called “Dirty Harry Grows Old…and Grows Up.”

Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this surprisingly satisfying plea for getting along. He plays a cantankerous old coot who can’t accept that the ol’ neighborhood ain’t what it used to be. In fact, nothing, it seems, is like it used to be — except for his cherished Gran Torino which he safeguards in his garage like a buried treasure.

However, he is forced to examine the nature of change and his own conscience when he is befriended by a Hmong family who’ve moved in next door. It’s a good trade-off: He protects them from the bullying gangs who now roam the neighborhood. They feed him and cuddle up like puppies. Ultimately, everything builds up to a final confrontation that may not be what you expected.

Eastwood the actor is still mostly a glare and a snarl. But his gifts as a director continue to deepen. In someone else’s hands, “Gran Torino” may have come off simplistic or even condescending, but thanks to this American master, it does exactly what it needs to do. Simply entertain, with just a smidgen of something to think about.

And God Bless Clint for doing one very important thing: he tackles bigotry in somewhere other than the South. Gee, so it IS a nation-wide problem.

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Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater, long-time movie critic for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, also has been a regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, Entertainment Weekly, Headline News and WXIA, Atlanta's NBC affiliate, and a columnist for TV Guide.