gran torino

Here’s a brief review of Gran Torino, which I saw almost a month ago.

This movie was less painful than I anticipated. The trailer for the film looked weak, and I was expecting a variation on Million Dollar Baby. It promised some of the same ingredients… Clint as himself, one-dimensional narcissists as supporting characters, and priest character as two-dimensional straw man…

But the film itself had a few fun moments. Clint plays Walt Kowalski, a wizened but gruff widower and war veteran who thinks the neighborhood is falling apart when a Hmong family moves in next door. His biases are challenged as he gets to know them. The scenes in which Clint’s character visits the neighbors offer lighthearted moments that save this film from its overarching earnestness. Some of the humor falls flat, though. Read the excellent review over at Rightwing Film Geek for more on this.

It’s not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination. There are long stretches of predictability, and pretty much every scene involving the priest character is tedious, awkward, and unnecessary. There are many poorly acted sequences.

A few thoughts by way of comparing the priest characters in Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino: Both are cardboard cutouts. Both have the pastoral acumen of someone at Dell Technical Support. Neither resemble actual human beings. Both are simply window dressing on the theme that organized religion is shame-based and impotent to effect personal change. (The real moment of grace in Torino is a confession between two characters through a screen door, as contrasted with the actual celebration of the sacrament earlier in the film). The priest in Torino is far more prominent, but less integral to the plot and thereby more annoying.

One thematic parallel between MDB and GT is that you can achieve redemption on your own terms, and in isolation from the rest of the human community. In both films, Clint plays the Lone Ranger of Grace, out to set things right by himself and in his own way. Clint seems to be given over to this form of sentimentality. As Armond White of the New York Press noted in his review: “Gran Torino panders to convenient sentimentality, leaving audiences no wiser about life, death, civilization or justice…. Gran Torino’s only truth is a half-truth.”

8 thoughts on “gran torino

  1. Wow, disappointing to hear this. I’m visiting friends in San Diego and Tijuana now, and we’re planning to go see it tonight. I’d read some other very positive articles about it, but yours and another have been pretty negative. I suppose it’s one of those films on which there is no middle ground…love it or hate it.

  2. Clayton,I look forward to your further detailed response and thank you for the link to the O’Connor essay.I haven’t seen doubt so I can’t yet comment as to a comparison. I don’t think the priest in GT was “whitewashed” though, I guess in sum I’ll just say it wasn’t the best depiction but I just hope it is an idicator of more possitive portrayls of priests in film. Also I find myself wondering if Clint is exploring the idea of joining the Catholic Church…

  3. I know this is off topic, but I see there is a link to the Word On Fire web site on your page! I have recently been following the development of Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism project, and I greatly encourage other people to support it as well! It’s great work, check it out. http://www.wordonfire.org

  4. As a fellow Catholic (and I’d say pretty orthodox, Rosaries, Tridentine Mass, etc) I rather enjoyed this movie, even from a “Catholic” point of view. It’s no “Bells of St. Mary’s” but I’ll take what I can get these days from Hollywood, frankly if the priest chracter isn’t a pedahile and or saddistic that puts a film lightyears ahead of other treatments of the Church in media.Yes the priest character was a tad anoying and not how I would have wrote it but there was more good than bad. The priest was shown to care about people in the parish and the community at large, he was resilient, turning the other cheek to verbal abuse from Walt, and he showed some courage, wanting to stay in the bad neighborhood in hopes of preventing violence even after the police ordered him to leave. Also the priest was capable of being “one of the guys” willing to go in the bar, drink the PBR’s without comming across at patronizing.I was grateful that the movie did not fall for the mistake of the “hip young priest” since anyone who would pass as a hip priest by media standards would be over 50 years old now, at least. It is good to see that movies are at last picking up on the notion of younger priests actually being quite orthodox and having a strong sense of their role as pastors and servant-leaders. The priest in the film talking about himself as a shepherad, refering to people as “my flock,” etc. it may have seemed a bit awkard comming from such a young guy but it did display a certain confidence in the priesthood that the young priest will eventually grow into with comfort.Considering the above I was a bit surpised that most of the times we saw the priest he was not wearing his collar but rather some sort of dress-shirt/sport coat combo. While it is (atleast around here) almost getting to the a point where the priests most likely to be seen in a cossack are either over 80 or under 40, I suppose for most of the audience no exposed to the “John Paul II Generation”, the young priest in cassock would have seemed like an anachorism and mistake on the part of the film, still they could have put him in a collar a bit more.At the end Walt did make the confession, not a very long confession, but he did it and his sins were invovled. Also, what were his last words? “Hail Mary full of grace.” In his will he left a lot to the Church.In essence I saw this movie about a sad old man who had lost most of what he valued in the world and drifted away from his faith, but via the persitence of the parish priest and the lessons he learned from the people around him, he had a spiritual awakening, made a confession, was absolved of his sins, and with the name of the Blessed Virgin on his lips made a heroic sacrifice.I have been recomending this film to all my friends, Catholic and non and I think it may actually leave the non-Catholic friends with a good impression of our Church and something to think about.

  5. Dear ClaytonThanks for the review. The trailer for this one didn’t give me a clear view of the movie and left me not knowing what to think. I had high expectations until now. Unless, of course, I end up agreeing with the Anonymous above…

  6. Anonymous,Maybe this essay by Flannery O’Connor will help you understand what I’m getting at / why I am unsatisfied with Gran Torino. < HREF="http://www.doxaweb.com/assets/flash/catholic_fiction.swf" REL="nofollow">http://www.doxaweb.com/assets/flash/catholic_fiction.swf<>When I have some more time, I’ll respond to your comment in greater detail.In short, I’m not looking for whitewashed or sterile representations of priests. I much prefer the priest in Doubt to the one in Gran Torino. At least I recognize the priest in Doubt as similar to some priests I’ve met…

  7. Agreed. I had higher hopes for all of the characters, especially the priest. It’s too bad the movie fell short in so many of these areas.

  8. Anonymous,<>he had a spiritual awakening, made a confession, was absolved of his sins<>But did the confession have anything to do with it? That whole scene struck me as pretty ironic, and Clint as not having the proper dispositions.It’s great that grace found him somehow, outside the sacramental system, but I felt like Eastwood’s point was that the ritual was pointless.

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