Gran Torino (2008)

Rated: R for language throughout, and some violence.
Length: 116 minutes
Grade: A-DAA=A
Budget: $33 million
Box Office: $306 million (148 U.S., 115 Intl., 43 DVD)

Written by: Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson (First real work for both)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Changeling, Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby, Blood Work, Absolute Power, Unforgiven, Pale Rider, Firefox, and The Outlaw Josey Wales)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, and Ahney Her.

After his wife dies, a Korean War veteran finds himself forced into involvement in the gang activities of some Southeast Asians in his hometown of Detroit.

Entertainment Value: A-
Clint Eastwood doesn’t miss. I was actually shocked to realize just how long he’s been directing himself in movies, going all the way back to The Outlaw Josey Wales. You may not always agree with what his movies have to say, and I don’t, but one thing is for sure: he doesn’t make bad ones. The acting here is brilliant, the plot is simultaneously simple and yet tremendously rich. And after almost having this movie ruined for me by some friends discussing it, I must say that I completely understand why they wanted to.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity B, Violence C-, Language F, Illegality C
Walt is constantly drinking and sometimes getting drunk. Violence includes threats with guns, beatings, a rape, and some gun violence. Language is pretty rough and continuous, including some sexual comments. However, this is one of those cases where the language is fully authentic, and it would have been a different movie without it, and an inferior one quite frankly.
Significant Content: A
I’ve got to be honest, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to comment on this movie for the simple reason that there is so much here to dig into and digest that my short summaries seem almost like an injustice to the movie. But I know you’re interested, so here goes. There is a vast difference between moral pontificating and academic study of life and the experience of having really lived one. A real man is someone who stands up to protect the weak, even at risk to himself. Don’t judge people on the basis of superficial markers. Gruffness and badness are not at all the same thing. Real family is a matter of love and shared experience, not a matter of blood relations.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
We live in a culture that is obsessed with the superficial, and the idea is that if you can get people to be fixed in the most obvious, superficial ways, then they will be good citizens. This, of course, is the essence of political correctness. People who use racial slurs are evil, and people who would never do that are good. But liberals aren’t the only ones who are stupid in this way. Conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives, also have their own versions of this lunacy with things like alcohol consumption and profanity use. And yet here we have a man who is likely viewed as barbaric and disgusting by both camps who nevertheless winds up being one of the most decent and virtuous men imaginable. It’s a devastating critique of the notion that such silly, surface things are good indicators of real character. And yet this is a point which the movie makes without ever making. It’s the same with it’s other main idea. The movie is brilliant in its method of contrasting at every turn what happens with what could have happened.

Discussion Questions:
~What is this movie trying to tell us about Walt by having him swear, drink, and use racial slurs so much of the time? Would Walt have been a different character without these defects? Are they real defects?
~Would you want Walt as your neighbor? Would you want your children hanging around him?
~What lessons does Tal learn from Walt? How important is it that men learn these lessons? Can these lessons be taught by middle-aged men?
~Does it bother you that the Hmong shaman is portrayed as powerfully insightful whereas the Catholic priest is portrayed as abysmally stupid? How does the priest change over the course of the movie? What does this show about him?
~Why does the priest refuse to call Walt by his last name? What do you think about this point of conflict between them?
~Compare the priest’s efforts toward the Hmong gang and Walt’s actions? What message is this movie sending? Are some people beyond redemption?
~Sue tells Walt that his food has no flavor. What is she really saying?
~Discuss the barbershop scene toward the end of the movie. What does this tell you about men? Is this an accurate portrayal of manhood?
~Is Walt a racist? How do you know? Can a person be decent, even virtuous, and yet still be a racist? Is indecency proved by racial slurs?
~After Tal tries to steal Walt’s car, his family requires him to make amends to Walt. How important is it to make restitution to someone for your sins against them?
Is it a particularly important thing to be nice? Is being nice ever at odds with being honest? Are good people ever gruff? Are evil people ever nice?
~Consider the three groups in this movie as vying for Walt’s soul: the Hmong neighbors, the Hmong gang, and the Catholic church. Describe their evangelistic strategies. What is effective and ineffective, and why? How is persistence a factor in them? Who wins in the end? What would it have looked like for the other two to have won?
~Is this movie redemptive? Who is redeemed, if anyone, in it?
~Would you describe Walt as a vigilante? Which, if any, of his actions would you say was unacceptable? What should he have done instead, if you say so?
~What do you think of Walt’s final actions? Who, exactly, benefitted from what he did? How was this Christlike, and how was it not?
~How does Walt’s illness affect your evaluation of his actions in the end, if at all?
~What does the car in this movie symbolize? Why would a movie about a super-fast car never have the car being driven at all? How does Walt represent Detroit? Is there a connection between Detroit, Walt, and the Gran Torino in what this movie is trying to say?
~From a Christian perspective, what would you say are Walt’s problems? What advice or counsel would you give him, if given the opportunity?
~There are two shots in this movie of Walt mowing his own lawn where the camera is positioned high up in the sky looking down. Why are these scenes in the movie?
~How important is it to have a community of people who care about you? Would you describe the Hmong community as a church? What Christian ideals do they represent? What are some of the differences between how they treat Walt and how his own family treats him?
~Given his early career and movies like Dirty Harry, do you think that Clint Eastwood is offering some sort of apology these days?
Overall Grade: A
This is a tremendously rich movie that will generate plenty of thought and discussion. Be sure to watch it with people who like to talk afterwards.

No comments: