CLINT Eastwood scored a big late-career box office hit with "Gran Torino," his bloody saga of a retired auto worker who clashes with local immigrants.
Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) lives alone in Detroit, in the house where he raised the kids he can no longer stand. He doesn't care much for his new neighbors, either - a family of Hmong immigrants. When their teenage boy tries to steal his vintage Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation rite, Walt stops him, with unexpected consequences. The family offers the boy to Walt as slave labor, to repay the debt of shame.
What follows is something like an R-rated "Up." The Hmong boy doesn't have a father, and angry widower Walt is estranged from his sons. They bond in a way that's touching and often comic. Until everything turns suddenly violent and garish - with rape, gang fights and a bloody shoot-out that many took to be another Eastwood commentary on revenge, redemption and violence.
I thought it was a weird lurch toward the lurid, but audiences loved it, and made "Gran Torino" one of the certified word-of-mouth hits of the last year, along with "Slumdog Millionaire," which got considerably more Oscar love.