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.”