Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Movie Review: The Bridges of Madison County

U.S. Release Date: 6/2/95
Running Time: 2:15
Rated: PG-13 (Mature themes, brief nudity)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Annie Corley, Victor Slezak, Jim Haynie

Director: Clint Eastwood
Producers: Clint Eastwood and Kathleen Kennedy
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Music: Lennie Niehaus
Studio: Warner Brothers

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When Clint Eastwood takes over a production, he makes it his own. He stars. He directs. He uses his talent to the best of his abilities. In the case of The Bridges of Madison County, Eastwood shines, but not bright enough to block either Streep in her wonder or the intense romance based on the novel by Robert James Waller.

Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) is your typical 1960’s housewife. She does all the cooking, cleaning, and caring. Born in Italy, Francesca once had dreams and aspirations of her own. However, now married, she is limited to living in an Iowa farmhouse that has been passed down through the generations to her husband. Her two children don’t give her the time of day and constantly slam the kitchen door closed. Her husband shows her no affection and doesn’t offer to help out around the house.

Cue Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood). In town to photograph a few of the county’s covered bridges, Robert meets Francesca (whose husband and children are away at the Illinois State Fair for four days) and the two begin to converse. After a few iced teas and an intriguing conversation, a relationship quickly buds and blossoms. Only, at the end of the fourth day, Francesca must decide to either leave town with her soul-mate or remain faithful to her family.

The outcome of this decision is already apparent to the viewer, because the entire film plays out in the fashion of a flashback. As Francesca’s son Michael (Victor Slezak) and daughter Caroline (Annie Corley) read their now-deceased mother’s journals, they are shocked to learn that she was involved in an affair with Robert—the man she describes as her one true love. Through these readings, Michael and Caroline come to know Robert and the relationship that he and their mother shared, and in doing so, they also find themselves.

Even though the son and daughter storyline is undoubtedly the weak point of the film, it is absolutely essential to the “looking-back” structure. At times, when Michael and Caroline occupy the screen, the film feels awkward, yet its core lies in the romance. The love between Robert and Francesca easily burns the heart and sets the tear ducts into motion.

Although some may find it morally difficult to attach themselves to a character that is having an affair, the story is about more than infidelity. It is a life-altering opportunity and a chance for a woman who has lost herself – who feels nonexistent in her own life – to express her true self and experience the passion of connecting to someone on a most intimate intellectual and emotional level. For a woman who barely gets any attention from her family, she immediately cherishes the prospect to share a few lines of Yeats, smoke a few cigarettes, and drink a few beers. The film is about finding love where, under the circumstances, it is forbidden. Whether or not Francesca’s actions are justified, is irrelevant and immaterial to the storyline.

Accentuated by two heartrending character portraits from Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, it is obvious why this film is a female favorite. Streep alone – with her impeccable accent, melancholy facial expressions, and alluring body language – contributes to the film’s relaxed pace and magical aura. Eastwood also fares well—throwing his Dirty Harry stereotype out the window and playing a man of depth, heart, and muscle.

Curl up on the couch with The Bridges of Madison County. It is a poetic, profound, and even erotic romance that depicts an affair growing from the smallest seed. Like a bridge, this film is firm, steady, and well-supported, and like an old covered bridge, this movie is truly a rare find. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005