June 2, 1995 in Seven

Eastwood ‘Bridges’ Gap From Lust To Compassion

Michael H. Price Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 

‘The Bridges of Madison County,” Robert James Waller’s respectably sleazy novelette of pent-up lust and once-in-a-lifetime romantic abandon, poses an odd challenge to Clint Eastwood’s skills as a filmmaker.

The book is haphazard where Eastwood prizes cool-headed control. It overstates its erotic case where Eastwood prefers dry understatement. And Waller’s taste for gooey sentimentality seems at odds with Eastwood’s customary reserve.

And yet from this insubstantial puff of steam heat, director Eastwood and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese have crafted a moving love story for grown-ups, enacted with tasteful passion - and more significantly, compassion - by Eastwood and Meryl Streep and graced with considerably more intelligent wit than the novel’s weepy excesses can claim.

Those millions who devoured the book merely for its blatant sexuality will do well just to go back and reread the novel, for Eastwood and LaGravenese have toned down that element to merely what is needed to demonstrate that this is no church-folks social. Eastwood has nothing to prove, after all, and his double-duty work here serves as a reminder of how much better a movie is when it leaves plenty to the imagination of the audience.

Where Waller’s narrative structure might best be described as “lurching,” LaGravenese has streamlined the works to an extended flashback: In the present day, the children of a deceased Francesca Johnson (played by Streep) chance upon an account she has left of a wild romance that bridged most of a week 30 years ago. The kids are shocked, to say the least, for good ol’ Mom had never let such inclinations show.

And before you can say “Play ‘Misty’ for Me,” we’re back in 1965 and Francesca is minding the farm out in the boondocks of Madison County, Iowa, while the rest of her family is away. Along comes photographer Robert Kincaid (Eastwood), looking for the picturesque covered bridges that dot the map.

Escalating realistically from idle small talk to a full-blown adulterous affair of brief intensity, the encounter takes shape more agreeably than the source-author has any right to expect. Here are finesse and discretion, hard at work at the service of a tale astonishingly richer than Waller’s glorified short story.

Eastwood defines the role, maintaining his crowd-pleasing reserve but amplifying the sensitivity he has sought to show in “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986) and “In the Line of Fire” (1993). Streep is utterly convincing as a woman who, though long resigned to a marriage grown cold, finds herself surprisingly well-prepared for a fling that will leave her with a secret that is at once joyous and burdensome.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “The Bridges of Madison County” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas. Credits: Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep Running time: 2:15 Rating: PG-13

Other views Here’s what other critics say about “The Bridges of Madison County”: Jay Boyar/Orlando Sentinel: In adapting Waller’s work for the big screen, Clint Eastwood has taken the least sentimental approach possible and - surprise! - it works. The director has discarded most of the novel’s narration. Where the novelist is florid, the filmmakers are spare. Where Waller pumped up the passions to multiorgasmic proportions, Eastwood and LaGravenese allow what is touching in the tale to emerge without a lot of stylistic heavy breathing. The result … is quite lovely. This affecting little film is easily one of Eastwood’s best efforts as a director. Philip Wuntch/Dallas Morning News: In some ways, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy, yet it’s rooted in realistic detail and honest human reactions. Although deliberately paced, its emotional approach is forged with directness and economy. And Meryl Streep and Eastwood, playing lovers old enough to be grateful for the rekindling of that emotion, embody a sensuousness that eludes most of their younger peers.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “The Bridges of Madison County” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas. Credits: Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep Running time: 2:15 Rating: PG-13

Other views Here’s what other critics say about “The Bridges of Madison County”: Jay Boyar/Orlando Sentinel: In adapting Waller’s work for the big screen, Clint Eastwood has taken the least sentimental approach possible and - surprise! - it works. The director has discarded most of the novel’s narration. Where the novelist is florid, the filmmakers are spare. Where Waller pumped up the passions to multiorgasmic proportions, Eastwood and LaGravenese allow what is touching in the tale to emerge without a lot of stylistic heavy breathing. The result … is quite lovely. This affecting little film is easily one of Eastwood’s best efforts as a director. Philip Wuntch/Dallas Morning News: In some ways, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy, yet it’s rooted in realistic detail and honest human reactions. Although deliberately paced, its emotional approach is forged with directness and economy. And Meryl Streep and Eastwood, playing lovers old enough to be grateful for the rekindling of that emotion, embody a sensuousness that eludes most of their younger peers.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email