Saturday, January 10, 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino

If you see one R rated movie in your lifetime, see The Passion of the Christ. If you see another one, see Gran Torino. In my point of view, this is likely one of the greatest movies of all time. It so much captures my worldview regarding violence, even though it is shown through a quite imperfect man.

Spoilers ahead, I'm spillin' the beans.

The story is about Walt, a very old very grumpy Korea veteran who lives in a neighborhood in Detroit now largely populated by Hmong. He shows a boy what manhood is like, and sacrifices himself for the boy and his sister and the whole neighborhood.

I've been watching some Clint Eastwood movies lately, and I couldn't help but notice that this one follows a kind of form that some of them follow. First you have an unlikely hero or antihero who wittingly or unwittingly helps some people, there is little real action for much of the movie, but some openers to get the story going. One of the people being helped is in some way brutalized by the bad guys which leads up to the climax. And then there is the final shootout followed by the denouement. It reminded me a bit of Pale Rider or Unforgiven except for the way the shootout goes.

This movie speaks to me in the way that it portrays the occurrence of redemptive violence. So many movies are based on revenge, kill the bad guy, get the girl, you win. But life, especially if you are a true believer in Christ does not work that way. This movie demonstrates that violence doesn't solve much, in fact, the only time Walt retaliates, it results in the rape and beating of Sue, the girl who introduces him to her Hmong family. So instead of mounting some sort of war against the Asian gangbangers, he instead implicates them all in his own murder by allowing himself to be gunned down as the only way of ridding the neighborhood of an inescapable negative influence. He says the only way Thao and Sue will ever make it is if the gangbangers are gone for good. As he demonstrates, the only way to successfully achieve that was to sacrifice himself. Really what it promotes is active non-violence, which is where I'm at.

One thing truly demonstrated in this movie is love. At the beginning of the movie, Walt is the grumpiest old man you can imagine, but when he, in a probably selfish move, saves Thao, the neighborhood lavishes love on him until he just can't resist it any more. This leads him to take Thao under his wing and ultimately leads him to sacrifice himself for the neighborhood. No, it's not as pure as Jesus, but it's almost as good as a human can pull off.

You might not expect it, but this movie is funny. In fact, I remember wishing that what they call comedies nowadays were this funny. Walt is hilarious. He spews racial epithets with impunity, he really doesn't care what anyone thinks. He calls the Hmong gooks to their faces, but they don't care, they welcome him anyway. I wish we as a country could let go of race and treat it as a source of humor not hate like Walt does with his barber and construction worker friend. "How ya doin' ya slimy mick bastard?" He didn't actually say that I don't think, but it was something like that. I'm a honky, he's a cracker, he's a wop, she's a beaner. So what. Race is a thing we have to deal with, and it won't be dealt with by ignoring it. Problems never go away that way.

All in all, this is one of the most impactful movies I have ever seen because if it's negative portrayal of redemptive violence. Even in the small cruddy theater I saw it in, there was substantial applause when the film ended. The only complaint I had was the acting was a little thin from some of the Hmong leads, but that was because only one of them had ever acted before. And I guess you could say with all the frowning and stern looks Eastwood gives in all his movies, the look has almost stuck. It's kind of hard to make him look any more pissed than usual, but the general nastiness and pissed offedness of the character does a pretty good job.

Entertainment wise, The Dark Knight was the best movie last year, but with how I perceive the message that I'd like to present, I put Gran Torino in first place. I hope one day Israel figures out that violence doesn't work. I give this movie 9/10 and it would have been 10 save for the acting. This will be a movie that I get on Blu-Ray or whatever technology is in, and it will be a movie my children will watch with me. Yes the swearing is excessive, but that's reality for you and it is easily forgettable. Watch it. I think it would be a fitting end if ol' Clint quit making movies.

WiredForStereo

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