Sunday, June 21, 2009

Greater Love

I was not prepared to believe that "Gran Torino" is Clint Eastwood's greatest movie. It may in fact be the best movie I've ever seen.

Spoiler alert: Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Ford employee who lives alone in the house where he and his (now deceased) wife had raised their two sons (who are now middle-aged and have families of their own). Walt is haunted by his memories of the Korean War, stymied by the indifference of his sons, and lonely since the death of his wife. He spends his time working on his beloved 1972 Ford Gran Torino (which he helped assemble at the Ford plant), drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and swapping politically-incorrect and verbally colorful ethnic jokes with his blue-collar buddies.

Much to Walt's chagrin, his once dignified, middle-class neighborhood has been taken over by Hmong immigrants and turned into a lawless ghetto. As Sue (charmingly played by Ahney Her), the lovely and spirited Hmong girl next door explains, the Hmong have adjusted well to life in America -- Hmong girls go to college and Hmong boys go to prison. After Walt rescues Sue's brother, Thao (sensitively portrayed by Bee Vang), from an assault by a local Hmong teenage gang, the elders of the Hmong community see Walt as a hero; they extend their irresistible friendship, and shower him with unwanted gifts and attention. Walt reluctantly responds to their overtures and forms a bond with Sue and especially with Thao, whom he takes under his wing. It becomes Walt's unacknowledged project to save Thao from a life of gang crime, and he does this by teaching him the things he knows -- the manly virtues, such as, how to talk to other men, how to work with tools, how to become emotionally self-sufficient, and how to respond to the attentions of a pretty girl.

Eastwood is an amazing director and, yes, an effective and solid actor. Like a great prizefighter, he jabs you with his left while he sneaks in a devastating overhand right. The last thing I imagined this film was going to be was a Bible study. But when the final showdown between Walt and the Hmong gang arrives, I couldn't help but be reminded of this famous passage:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

As a bonus, Eastwood wrote the song that closes the movie -- appropriately named, "Gran Torino". (Eastwood is a huge jazz music fan and plays piano quite well.) It's a beautiful and haunting song, and was itself worth the price of the movie; I predict it will become a classic. Like the film. Like Clint Eastwood himself.

1 comment:

James Ray said...

I find myself looking continually for Biblical references in the movies & TV shows I watch. These references show up quite often, and sometimes--I'm pretty sure--when the writers may not have even known the source of their muse. I hope Clint knows the source.

Watching the TV show "Lost," I imagined (during the 1st episode) that they had stumbled in to The Garden Of Eden, from which man had been cast out eons ago. There is an (invisible) entity who is somehow "held" in a cabin against his will. Though not scriptural, I figured it to be a metaphor for, perhaps, an angel whom God left in charge who, by some manner of evil, had been overcome and held captive. This makes it possible to "find" the previously hidden-from-this-dimension island, which a few people have done.

I might be wrong but, if so, the "Lost" writers are missing out on an incredible allegorical opportunity. Not to mention an almost limitless source of plot inspiration.