Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Annie Corley, Victor Slezak, Jim Haynie, Michelle Benes, Richard Johnson
Written by: Richard LaGravenese, bsed on a book by Robert James Waller
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for some sexuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 135
Date: 06/01/1995

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Being in Pictures

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Since 1988's Bird, Clint Eastwood has emerged as one of Hollywood's most consistently interesting filmmakers. He has an old-fashioned, workmanlike visual style all his own. He is totally honest with us, never hiding behind special effects or drippy music. In directing himself as an actor, he is in complete charge of his instrument, perhaps even as much as Orson Welles or Laurence Olivier were, in that he knows exactly how to move and act to elicit a particular response. He is a movie star rather than an actor, but he is the best at it.

The Bridges of Madison County book, by Robert James Waller, is famous for being utter drivel, but this bad book makes a good movie. The story has a traveling photographer, in town to snap pictures of the famous covered bridges, falling in love with a married woman whose husband is out of town. The story is told in flashback, after the woman's death, as her children go through her things. Screenwriter Richard (The Fisher King, The Ref) LaGravenese apparently aced most of the new-agey excess and Eastwood directs the hell out of it.

I've never much liked Meryl Streep, but then I never much liked Kevin Costner either, and Eastwood brought out Costner's finest performance ever in A Perfect World. Same here: Bridges may be Streep's finest hour. With age, she seems to have dropped most of her acting school pretensions. We sense that these two mighty stars really are two people falling in love.

The film is co-produced by Amblin's Kathleen Kennedy, and I believe that Steven Spielberg was originally going to direct. Imagine the kind of sappy, syrup-drenched crap that would have emerged if that scenario had occurred. Clint's movie is muddy, dusty and full of flies. It took a real man like Eastwood to really fall in love.

DVD Details: I haven't seen the old DVD, but I'm led to understand that this new, 2008 edition is availble in 16x9 widescreen for the first time. Eastwood is not one for commentary tracks, so this new "deluxe" disc comes with a new making-of featurette (including interviews with Streep and Eastwood), a commentary track by cinematographer Jack N. Green and editor Joel Cox, and a music video for Eastwood's lovely instrumental song "Doe Eyes." There are also optional subtitles and language tracks.

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