Jan 12, 2009
During the post-Vatican II push for more "relevant" religion classes, students in my high school "Theology of the Film" course trooped off to see Dirty Harry -- the 1971 drama starring Clint Eastwood as the police lieutenant who violates the law, including the torture of suspects, to protect San Franciscans from a wily serial killer.
Afterward, we held the requisite classroom debate on whether Harry was justified in taking the law into his own hands. Most of us teenagers didn't quite understand the point of the discussion -- Harry did what he had to do, right? But our teacher, a Dominican nun, appeared to be quite torn up.
The memory of that futile classroom exercise surfaced again while I watched Gran Torino, the compelling new film that showcases Eastwood's unique gifts as an actor and director.
Eastwood has vowed that his staring role in Gran Torino will be his final onscreen performance. Thus, filmgoers who savor his austere vision of the autonomous individual establishing his own code of morality may find themselves approaching Dirty Harry and Gran Torino as ideal bookends for his cinematic career. Indeed, as Eastwood surely intended, Dirty Harry's moral dilemma is unexpectedly and memorably resolved in Gran Torino, the tale of Walt Kowalski, a retired autoworker confronting a violent gang and his own morality.