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Clint Eastwood's Libertarian-Conservative Vision (David Swindle, January 23, 2009,
The mildly racist Walt is horrified to see his neighborhood filled with Asian immigrants, the younger generation of which have resorted to gang life. Walt gradually sheds his prejudices, though, as a series of events bring him into contact with his neighbors. In teenage Thao, he finds a boy who respects his elders and is concerned about his family's honor. Walt begins to mentor Thao, teaching him in the ways of masculinity and setting him up with a construction job. Thao's opportunity to make something of himself, though, is threatened by gang members who seek to draw him into their lifestyle and react violently when he resists. The Korean War veteran realizes that his neighborhood has become a war zone. Walt, now invested in the boy's future, realizes that Thao's opportunity to participate in the American Dream is threatened and reacts to defend him. [...]

The urban setting of "Gran Torino" perhaps reminds viewers more of Eastwood's other iconic role as Detective Harry Callahan in director Don Siegel's "Dirty Harry" and its sequels. The film featured Callahan on the trail of Scorpio, a sadistic serial killer. When one of the murderer's victims was supposedly trapped with a limited oxygen supply, Callahan ignored legal bureaucracy and regulations, breaking into the killer's home without a search warrant and engaging in some "enhanced interrogation techniques" to try and push the madman into revealing the girl's location. It seems clear how a contemporary film might apply this attitude to a terrorist with knowledge of an impending attack. For portraying such a character the film was famously attacked by prominent film critic Pauline Kael as "fascist." [...]

Within Eastwood's films, though, we see the transition from libertarianism to libertarian-conservatism. One can start out with a vision of freedom – that we must have a society in which individuals have the opportunity to pursue their own destinies and "everyone leaves everyone else alone," as Eastwood likes to sum up his views. Yet one becomes conservative when he comes to the realization that that freedom must be defended from those who threaten it; it must be conserved. We see this first manifest in "Dirty Harry" when the Eastwood character goes to extreme measures to confront a sociopath who threatens a city's freedom.

It's ultimately in "Gran Torino," though, that this idea gets its clearest expression. We want a society in which the next generation has the same opportunities of individual liberty to pursue their dreams. In order for the next generation to enjoy that freedom, we must confront sociopaths and nihilists – whether they be international Islamofascists or just local criminal gangs – who would threaten that fundamental American Vision.
And the nativists who would deprive us of millions of Thao's.

I watched Dirty Harry for the first time in thirty years recently, having just watched the great film Zodiac which references it. I'd remembered how awful the 70s were, but forgotten that the buried prisoner scenario was central to the plot. Interesting to consider that movies like this helped create a climate in which we punish crime with appropriately puritanical zeal, after a long period of liberal coddling, but that we see no similar movies about the war against the jihadis.

As it happens, I've also just finished Alex Berenson's thriller, The Faithful Spy, a three year-old bestseller that--at least according to't even in production as a film. It includes a number of conservative, or "fascistic," themes. For one thing, it takes a deliciously savage view of the CIA and the way that bureaucratic concerns trump intelligence. For another, John Wells, the spy of the title, not only genuinely accepts Islam while he is undercover in Afghanistan but is appalled by the dissolution in American society when he returns. Heck, there's even a plotline that involves al Qaeda buying yellowcake in Iraq. But there's also a really fine scene where the terrorist who was caught making that purchase is tortured at a secret prison in order to find out what the material was for. This includes a mature discussion of the difference between torturing a confession from someone--useless, because torture is so effective that anyone will confess to anything--and torturing intelligence out of someone--useful for the same reason. Clint Eastwood is too old these days to play John Wells, but is Hollywood really bereft of anyone who takes Salafism seriously enough to make a film about the fight against it where we're the good guys and the unfortunately harsh methods we use to combat it are justified?

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Grade: (A+)


Alex Berenson Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Alex Berenson
    -BOOK SITE: The Faithful Spy
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of The Faithful Spy
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Faithful Spy
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Ghost War
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Number
    -ESSAY: Plotting Thrillers in the Fog of China (ALEX BERENSON, November 21, 2009, NY Times)
    -DIARY: Embedded in Najaf (Alex Berenson, November 2004, Slate)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Alex Berenson (The Leonard Lopate Show, 2/09/10 )
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Alex Berenson (John J. Miller: NRO: Between the Covers)
    -PROFILE: Timing is perfect for Berenson's spy novels (DAVID MARTINDALE, 2/10/10, The Star-Telegram)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview With Best-Selling Spy Novelist Alex Berenson (Mike Le, Feb 1 2010, geekweek)
    -INTERVIEW: Novelist Alex Berenson on his new book, The Midnight House (Hugh Hewitt, February 10, 2010)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEWS: with Alex Berenson (Eye on Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Oops! I E-mailed a Reporter: If you're a partner at a powerful law firm and your client is in secret settlement talks, you really don't want to send a confidential e-mail to the wrong person - especially not a reporter. Guess what the New York Times' Alex Berenson found in his inbox? He tells the story. (On The Media, February 08, 2008)
    -INTERVIEW: with Alex Berenson (Bookreporter, May 2006)
    -INTERVIEW: With Alex Berenson (Internet Writing Journal, May 18, 2007)
    -INTERVIEW: 'The Faithful Spy': Infiltrating Al-Qaida (Talk of the Nation, May 10, 2006)
    -REVIEW: of THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT By Alan Furst (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of VICIOUS CIRCLE: A Novel of Complicity By Robert Littell (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of WE ARE NOW BEGINNING OUR DESCENT By James Meek (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DEVIL MAY CARE By Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO By Stieg Larsson (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FIDEL'S LAST DAYS By Roland Merullo (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Alex Berenson (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Alex Berenson (DayLife)
    -REVIEW: of The Midnight House by Alex Berenson (Philip Seib, Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Midnight House (Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times)
    -REVIEW: of Midnight House (Harry Levins, St. Louis POST-DISPATCH)
    -REVIEW: of midnight House (Joe Meyers, CT News)
    -REVIEW: of Midnight House (Elise Cooper, BLACKFIVE)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson (JACOB HEILBRUNN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Celia McGee, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Richard Schickel, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Travis Taylor, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of The Ghost War by Alex Berenson (Robert D. Kaplan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Ghost War (Donna Volkenannt , Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of The Number: How the Drive for Quarterly Earnings Corrupted Wall Street and Corporate America by Alex Berenson (Rob Walker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Number (dan Seligman, Commentary)

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