Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
New work released by David Guterson, Clint Eastwood

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 5, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

David Guterson is best known for his first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars. That story of the San Juan Islands at the time of World War II was filled with romance and mystery. His newest novel, The Other, does not have the fast-moving plot of his earlier work. It is much more a character study of two young men from the Seattle area who become “blood brothers” as they try to find out what life is all about.

Neil Countryman, who narrates the novel, tells of his friendship with a runner, John William Barry, from the famed Lakeside School in Seattle. Neil is from the more ordinary north Seattle Roosevelt Public High School. The two develop a life-long friendship. The novel focuses on their growing up in the 1970s onward. They are 16 in 1972.

Neil and John become quite the hikers throughout western Washington, sometimes even without maps and sort of just finding their way out of the wilderness.

Eventually Neil becomes a teacher, marries, has children, and lives a pretty ordinary life. His friend John William leaves riches behind and becomes a recluse, living in a hand-hewed cave near the South Fork of the Hoh River in the Olympic Mountains. As he turns inward, John William will not come out of the wilderness, and it is friend who tries to keep him supplied, especially through the winter months, so he can survive.

By the end of the novel we experience several surprises.

The Other has a plaintive, almost mystical side as the author takes the reader deep into the wilderness of the Olympic National Park.

My guess is that a person who has hiked the wilderness of Western Washington would indeed enjoy this story. But others who might think they are going to find another Snow Falling on Cedars may well find this novel less than gripping.

The Other was published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf of New York in 2008. The list price is $24.95.

Movie Reviews

British director Danny Boyle has added lots of Oliver Twist to the epic vistas of India and then tied it together with a 1940s romance in his prize-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. With only $15 million to work with, Boyle has given us a very fast-moving concoction that blends reality and the fantasy of impossible good luck into a very popular film. Slumdog has won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and, more recently, the Golden Globe of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

One warning early on: Slumdog is an intensely violent film.

Jamal (Dev Patel) works in Mumbai, India as a tea server to call center workers. He finds himself on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The movie goes through the various questions as Jamal correctly answers them. This leads him to the possibility of winning millions of rupees. People across India are glued to their televisions to watch Jamal.

In the journey of his continuing success, Jamal is given over to police, who believe he has been cheating. The story is then told in flashbacks of how from his life experience as one of the poorest of the poor he would know the correct answers to the questions he has been asked. So we see Jamal from childhood through the early teen years to adulthood, going through life-threatening experiences. Three actors play Jamal, his brother Salim, and the love of Jamal’s life, Latka (as an adult, Freida Pinto). Among the sorrows faced are the death of their mother by anti-Muslim rioters, homelessness, torture, and prostitution.

The tricky host of the show (Anil Kapoor) does everything possible to bring Jamal down when he thinks he has won too much. How could a slum boy do so well? But it is the old-fashioned romance between Jamal and Latka that holds the film together and gives it such wonderful ending.

Boyle’s direction shows clearly how powerful a movie can be. He certainly knows how to keep things moving. The script, written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel Q & A, by Vikas Swarup is extraordinary. The director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantel, is perfect as he visually and dramatically tells an intriguing story. The actors are excellent. And you will not want to leave during the credits at the end of the film. The whole cast sings and dances its heart out to a colorful and very joyous Bollywood song.

Slumdog Millionaire is rated R for intense violence by the Motion Picture Association of America. The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film A-III – for adults.


In parishes such as Assumption in Spokane and Sacred Heart in Pullman, I recently experienced a large number of people asking me if I had seen the new Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino. I had not, until the Martin Luther King holiday when I saw it in Moscow, Idaho with a seminary classmate, Father Joe Schmidt. And to my surprise, with its call for tolerance, it was the perfect film for that day of remembrance.

Gran Torino was the Number One film the weekend it opened with $29 million. It is now well over $70 million. It is amazing when a 78-year-old actor can act in his final film and end up with a financial blockbuster.

Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) opens the film with a sermon at the funeral of Walt Kowalski’s wife. Walt (Clint Eastwood) later tears into the young priest for knowing nothing about life and death and being a “27-year-old virgin.” The priest uses the term “bittersweet” to describe life and death. And in the end, the term “bittersweet” is a pretty good word to describe this film.

The priest comes to Walt’s home to ask him to go to Confession. He tells Walt this was his wife’s last wish. And Father Janovich keeps pursuing Walt, time and time again, after Walt refuses to comply with his wife’s wishes. The young priest must have been close to the wife in order to keep up the pursuit. Usually when someone says “no” on this issue it means “no.”

Walt is a dirty-mouthed racist who pushes away his two sons and their families. He also wants nothing to do with his Hmong and other Asian neighbors who remind him of the people he killed in Korea many years ago.

But eventually he intervenes when gangbangers pressure his neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) to steal Walt’s pristine 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Walt with his .44 Magnum stops the event, but then slowly involves himself in protecting his Hmong neighbors from the violence of the gang who want to force Thao to be a new member.

The story of how Walt is able to change because of his friendship with people of another culture is touching and the ending of the film is very moving.

The wonderful comedic highlight of the film is when Walt takes Thao to his barber (John Carroll Lynch) in order to “man him up” by learning to speak racial epithets. The scenes with Thao’s sister (Ahney Her) are beautifully portrayed.

Eastwood has made a very popular movie that has the feel of a small independent film. His Hmong actors are all non-professionals. Director Eastwood has made an impressive redemptive film for adults. But I still think Father Janovich is less than impressive in the confessional when Walt finally makes his confession. The confession by Walt is itself memorable.

Gran Torino is rated R-Restricted, by the Motion Picture Association of America because of violence and language. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film L – limited adult audience films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

Recently Received

Gary Jansen, religion editor at the Doubleday Religion publishing house, has a handsome new gift-type book out on the rosary, titled The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved. The book is published in hardcover by Faith Works of New York for $11.99.

Jansen tells of a rough patch in his life where he returned to the rosary. He gives background on the rosary and even practical helps, such as how to breathe when praying.

The main part of the book is filled with beautiful color paintings done by the Masters of fine art. So with each mystery there is a color illustration with a brief reflection. The more recent Luminous mysteries are also included.

Jansen’s book is a helpful gift for someone starting to pray with the rosary, or would be a fine addition to the library of anyone who has longed prayed the rosary.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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