Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Movie Review: Gran Torino (Spoiler Alert).

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." (English translation: "The more things change, the more they stay the same.")

--Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes

Gran Torino's simultaneously derivitive and fresh.

It's derivitive because it somewhat recycles Clint Eastwood's Inspector Harry Callahan ("Dirty Harry"), launched in 1971 almost concurrently with the '72 Gran Torino featured here. Gran Torino's sneering, "Get off my lawn!" (and similar lines) delivered with a firearm in Eastwood's hand could have easily been uttered in his other movies. While derivitive of earlier roles, Eastwood's Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino manages to make Inspector Callahan seem genteel by contrast. Growling, racist, mean and self-absorbed, Eastwood appears beyond redemption. However, redemption lies at the core of this movie.

Gran Torino's derivitive nature also arises through its importation of Christology so overt that it even includes a crucifix pose. Similarly, religious themes abound in Gran Torino, with frequent appearances by an earnest and persistent priest played by Christopher Carley.

It's fresh because its relative newcomer screenwriter, Nick Schenk, brought a new twist to a familiar story arc about redemption, forgiveness and sacrifice. Among other things, Gran Torino explores Hmong culture--not a common topic of American movies. Further, its creatively offensive, authentic dialogue seemed fresh because its raw and racist language's largely absent from today's politically correct cinema. Most theatergoers in my screening reacted to it with nervous laughter. (Admittedly, this is somewhat of a throwback too because Dirty Harry tossed off some racial epithets, but nothing approaching the pervasive level here. The language deserves a special warning; so you've been warned).

Likewise, the movie somewhat unusually elevates the importance of male influence in the lives of young men, even through Walt Kowalski's damaged, imperfect vehicle, who evidently failed as a father to his own, alienated sons. Kowlaski intervenes to help a young man, after concluding he "doesn't stand a chance" without a father-figure. But the saving isn't one-way. Kowalski undergoes his own transformation.

The movie's likely to divide viewers into two camps. You will either love or hate it. Count me in the group loving it.

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