This review is a spoiler, so stop here if you plan to watch it and you don’t want to know the ending. And by the way, I save a few Atheist specific comments to the end.
The movie opens at the funeral of Walt Kowalski’s wife. Walt, a cantankerous, bitter Korean War vet now lives alone in a neighborhood with very few fine White folks like himself. His bitterness has alienated him from his neighborhood and from his own family. The only beauty remaining in his world is his own troll embellished neurotically manicured lawn. Walt’s only remaining past-time after fixin’ up the house is to sit on his porch and drink 8 cans of beer out of a cooler bad mouthing everything his sees.
But the movie is full of redemption when we see the soft-side of this old fart come out as a hero. I love movies that make folks complex and shows people changing their ways. My Dad had a lot of Walt’s traits — lots of guys did from that era (my Dad served in WWII). Like Walt, he had a bigoted word for every race and religion, but like Walt he mingled well enough with all of them and was actually a fine citizen. The movie slowly shows us Walt’s strong side which blossoms into a savior in the end. To draw out and nourish Walt’s inner hero we get the help of several characters. First his dead wife’s wish for her dear stubborn husband’s salvation are brought to Walt’s door by a naive but diligent priest. Walt shoos away the priest, but the door has been cracked and it isthe words of a sassy, bright, and kind Hmong girl next door which opens the door of Walt’s heart. Then our renewed Hero helps straighten the life of the trampled Hmong young boy next door. Everyone redeems everyone else — it is wonderful. Seriously, I am a sap, I love this stuff.
OK, I didn’t think the acting was the best, but again, I will sacrifice acting for a sappy story line. So, that said, I did want to make a few Atheist specific observations.
Walt finds out he has fatal lung cancer, but no one else knows — shhhhh ! He has befriended the Hmong neighbors by “helping” them ward of an Asian gang who is recruiting their son to a life of callous sin. Yet Walt’s help is in the form of violence which only leads to more violence (of course). And so with Clint Eastwood as Walt, we expect guns to go a blazin’. But Walt has grown very fond of his Hmong neighbors, he was a hero in the Korean War and is very smart and good at fixing things. Sure he punches his hand through a few things in anger (hell, he is man), but then he sits down and thinks and comes up with a plan.
He goes to the gang-house by himself, taunts the no-good hoodlums until they all shower him with bullets while the neighborhood watches Walt blasted down to sprawl as an sacrificial ornament on the neighborhood sidewalk. The gang is hauled off to prison and Dead-Walt saves the lives of the Hmong family by sacrificing his own.
But wait, it ain’t too bad, Walt had Cancer anyway, remember ! This is just like Tommy Lee Jones in another of Eastwood’s films “Space Cowboys” where Jones sacrifices himself to die alone on the moon to save Earth from a nuclear disaster. The sacrifices are nobel, but hell, we are happy for them because going out with a flame is far better than withering with cancer. And in a funny way, these Jesus-figures illustrate how really toned down Jesus’ sacrifice really was too.
Jesus was supposedly 100% man and 100% god. So he knows when he dies he goes back to being a god in heaven — absolute surety (unlike us pathetic, fear-ridden humans who only have the meagerest of hope in life-after-death). Jesus knows 100% that when he dies, he is leaving future suffering of being a lowly human and runs right back to his homemade paradise. Wow, some sacrifice. OK, sure, it is great to help others on the way out, but the director (God, in this case) saves us from shedding too many tears for Jesus, we are just happy for ourselves — the saved. But come on, why not have a young, family-man Walt with a long life in-front of him sacrifice himself for the Hmong family. Well, because we’d walk away from that movie real sad and hating the Hmong gang and have all sorts of nasty feelings.
The movie, instead, left me with good feelings. Hell, I even liked the priest in this movie — his sincerity and open mindedness were inspiring. Ooops, are Atheists allowed to like redemptions, priests and forgiveness. Hell yes ! So if you want a movie to make you feel good, give it a peak. But if you are a half-way intelligent movie critic (which thank Krishna, I am not), you might give this one a pass.