Friday, January 23, 2009

Gran Torino

Gloating is most certainly not a Christian virtue, but I take the risk of sinning boldly here (before you jump on me, I know that's not what Luther meant!). We saw the movie Gran Torino last night, and it proved finally that Clint Eastwood can't do everything: For his latest few movies, he has acted, directed, produced, written the music, and for all I know designed the costumes (and he was a mayor, too, or a while). But in Gran Torino he proves that he CAN'T SING. Glory Hallelujah. (He's sung in three of his movies, but in this one, it barely even qualifies as croaking!)

The actor I first knew as Randy Yates in Rawhide, is a fantastically talented guy! And while this may not be the greatest movie ever made -- or even the best he's made -- it is eminently worth seeing. OK, so it's predictable and formulaic: He's able to pull it together.

This is a Minnesota picture, and I don't know why it wasn't set in Minnesota. I suppose my good old state was too cheap in the tax credits, but c'mon guys! This story was written in Minneapolis, set in the Twin Cities (there's a stronger Hmong presence in Saint Paul than on this side of the River), using language and images out of Minnesota life (if you know what to listen for). And I'm told that Bee Vang, the kid around whom the story revolves, is a non-actor from The Cities. Good grief. Even the final scene, driving along the Lake, could have been filmed here!

There are some amazingly funny lines in this movie, even though it is violent (Dirty Harry lives) in word and deed, and it is just plain ugly in some senses. I won't give away the funniest line that make me guffaw, but there is one scene in which Walt asks Sue how the Hmong happened to be in an area of the country "covered with snow six months out of the year." She notes that the Lutherans brought them in. His response is, "Everybody always blames something on the Lutherans." (And don't we know it.)

On a final note, to make this post fit the general theme of this blog, Brad (my movie partner) and I discussed the portrayal of the priest in the movie. It's an interesting handling, above average among movies which have priests as supporting characters. The guy who plays the priest, Christopher Carley, looks the part -- fresh faced, red haired and freckled, young, very innocent. And at the beginning we're led to believe that he's a real light-weight. But through the course of the movie either he changes or our (through Walt's eyes) perspective on him changes. Because he ends up being kind of sophisticated: He is persistent to the extreme about getting Walt to confession, enduring some really crunching insults. He has insight into some aspects of Walt's personality -- although he can't quite get down what he should call him, whether Mr. Kowalski or Walt (and his maturity is reflected in the way he ultimately resolves that). And he has commitment to the Church, not just a religiosity-in-Catholic garb.

I take issue with one thing in the movies' handling of the priest: Father Janovich serves an aging, apparently conservative congregation (although we don't see much of the place except for funerals). Yet he makes many of his visits to Walt in a sport jacket and shirt with no tie. Now I don't know even one Roman Catholic priest who goes about daily work without his collar; I can't believe that any of them would go on missions without their collar (and to that extent they are most certainly trained to look different from Protestant pastors). So I'm not sure what the deal was with that.

I wouldn't give the Oscar to this movie (my vote goes to Slumdog Millionaire), but this is worth seeing -- and on the big screen, if only to get a great view of the eponymous 1972 Gran Torino.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Many priests today wear casual clothing during the week. In my diocese its unusual to see a priest wearing a collar on weekdays. Some don't even wear it on Sundays. I am a priest and wear the collar maybe 20% of the time. I appreciated that the movie didn't stereotype the priest but treated him as a human being.