In his second directorial effort this year, Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a bitter, bigoted curmudgeon whose only sign of emotion seems to be a gruff scowl. He swears at his preacher, drinks only cheap beer and liquor and is generally unpleasant to be around.

In his second directorial effort this year, Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a bitter, bigoted curmudgeon whose only sign of emotion seems to be a gruff scowl. He swears at his preacher, drinks only cheap beer and liquor and is generally unpleasant to be around.

In other words, he's not exactly playing outside his comfort zone.

Just about all that separates Walt from Million Dollar Baby's curmudgeon Frankie Dunn (who resembles an aged version of Dirty Harry Callahan) is his love and devotion for his 1972 Gran Torino, a car he helped assemble as a Ford factory line worker, and his distrust of all the Hmong families buying houses in his deteriorating neighborhood.

That distrust isn't helped when quiet neighbor boy Thao (Bee Vang) attempts to steal Walt's car as a gang initiation. Walt eventually warms to the family, especially quick-witted daughter Sue (talented newcomer Ahney Her), and becomes a reluctant mentor to Thao when he comes to repay his debt to Walt. The gang, however, isn't about to let things go peacefully.

Just as it was tempting to refer to Million Dollar Baby as "the euthanasia movie," any summary of Gran Torino suggests it's a movie about immigration, but that's a red herring.

The picture is actually an introspective and understated look at the notion of family in America, which seems to be Eastwood's favorite subject. As such, Gran Torino plays like every other recent film directed by Eastwood, which is to say it's fascinating and pretty darn good.