Judge Michael Nazarewycz's steamy tale of forbidden love will be titled "The Potholes of Delaware County."
Our review of The Bridges Of Madison County: Deluxe Edition, published May 22nd, 2008, is also available.
"And in that moment, everything I knew to be true about myself up until then was gone. I was acting like another woman, yet I was more myself than ever before."
In this section of my recent Bachelor Party review, I mentioned that I had considered discussing Tom Hanks' TV-to-film transition and how that transition is the greatest of anyone who has taken that path. I also mentioned how George Clooney is sniffing around for a shot at the title.
I should have considered the case for Clint Eastwood.
Eastwood found great early-career success on TV's Rawhide, which he has followed with 50 years' worth of legendary film series (The Man With No Name trilogy) and iconic film characters ("Dirty" Harry Callahan) in front of the screen, and four Oscar wins (Best Director and Best Picture each for 1992's Unforgiven and 2004's Million Dollar Baby) and many other memorable films behind it. As an actor or as a director (among the many other hats he's worn), he has taken on just about every genre out there. That includes working both sides of the camera for one of the most popular novels of the late 20th century.
Facts of the Case
Based on the novel of the same title written by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County opens in the present day, with 40-something siblings Carolyn and Michael Johnson (Annie Corley and Victor Slezak, respectively) uncovering the contents of their recently-deceased mother's safety deposit box at the old family house in rural Iowa. A mysterious key leads to a cedar chest that contains a letter to the siblings from their mother, along with a collection of her diaries. Her letter instructs her children to read the diaries.
Flashback to 1965 and Richard Johnson (Jim Haynie, Pretty in Pink) is packing up young Carolyn and Michael and taking them to a state fair. They'll be gone for four days, leaving wife and mother Francesca (Meryl Streep, Silkwood) home alone. No sooner is the family gone, National Geographic photgrapher Robert Kincaid (Eastwood) happens upon her house, lost and looking for bridges to photograph. Carolyn offers to show Robert where the bridges are.
Thus begins a relationship that rapidly unfurls into a torrid affair which could lead to a different future than what life presently has planned for Francesca. At the end of the four days, Francesca must decide—should she stay or should she go.
The Bridges of Madison County is a film that could have easily devolved into movie-of-the-week territory, but is instead propelled to beauty by the might of Streep's performance and the care of Eastwood's direction.
From the unequaled actress, who earned her 10th Oscar nomination for her work here (a tally that presently stands at 18 noms, with three wins), comes more than just her trademark spot-on accent. Streep plays Francesca—a native Italian who married her US G.I. boyfriend—as the repressed, middle-aged, middle-American war bride of the 1960s. In the opening flashback, you can see in her eyes and in her body language, as she serves dinner to her family, that she is not content. Sure, she is happy to do things for her family, but there is something beneath the surface that is gnawing at her. Surely this is why she opts for a four-day respite away from the family—if she can't change her lot in life, at least she can get a long weekend away from it. Streep delivers the clash of commitment-vs-discontent marvelously.
Once Robert appears, Streep portrays Francesca with the giddy spark of a girl half her age combined with the wisdom of a woman twice that. Through pointed narration, Streep reveals how Francesca revels in the couple's tender moments while questioning not only what she has become with Robert, but what she had become with Richard. And when it's time to make her fateful decision, a new kind of internal conflict presents itself. Once she was a woman confined by duty and restless for change, and four days later she is a woman on the verge of a renaissance yet haunted by the guilt of a decision she hasn't yet made.
Streep plays the tortured domestic soul with sublime subtly.
As for Eastwood's direction, it's subdued to the point of being voyeuristic. He knows what he has in Streep, he recognizes the chemistry he has with her onscreen (which is very real), and he knows the power of the source material, so he has no need to over-orchestrate his players. He lets them stumble, flirt, touch, dance, kiss, and make love, and it all unfolds so very naturally. We aren't viewers of this affair so much as we are witnesses. Even in the scenes when the two of them are not together, Director Eastwood doesn't just let his actors do the work, he makes sure he stays out of their way.
It's easy to accuse this film of romanticizing and glorifying infidelity, and to a certain extent it does. Still, even if Francesca is discontent in her marriage, she vowed to be faithful to her husband and she is not being faithful to her husband. No matter how gorgeous the film might be, it doesn't change the fact that this woman is cheating (and her husband, while dull, is a terribly nice fella who loves his wife very much). But there is something of a subplot here involving a local woman who is scorned by the rest of the townsfolk for having had an affair with a married man, thus contributing to the ruination of that man's marriage. She is shunned by people to a painful extent.
I don't know if this subplot was part of the original text, but its appearance in the film (either as addition or inclusion) is so very clever, because it dulls that otherwise sparkly Hollywood sheen. It says that infidelity is wrong, and although the lead characters might be having a grand old time with it, it can also have significant negative consequences. The story needs this as reminder to us and as a reminder to Francesca, too.
The 1.85:1/1080p transfer on The Bridges of Madison County (Blu-ray) is excellent. This is a film crammed with visual details, from the countless number of items in Francesca's kitchen to the gorgeous farmland and foliage of rural Iowa, and from Robert's weathered and time-worn face to Francesca's soft, slightly aged features. (This includes a shot-of-the-film glimpse at her naked torso in a mirror; Eastwood reveals just enough of her to both keep the film PG-13 yet fuel the R-rated imagination). The Blu rises to the challenge, offering clear, detailed imagery while maintaining the slight grain of the near-20-year-old source material. Eastwood shoots in earth tone muted colors, and while nothing pops because of it, there is no loss of image either. Nor does the disc struggle with the numerous dark scenes.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is, for the most part, perfectly fine but unchallenged. The bulk of this film is dialogue, although any background (radio) music or ambient noise, is uncluttered. There are a couple of scenes where music is the prominent audio track, and it fills the speakers well.
The Bonus Features are a good news/bad news proposition. The good news is that they are quite entertaining and informative. The bad news is that if you own the 2008 Deluxe Edition DVD, you already know these extras.
* First up is Audio Commentary with Editor Joel Cox and Director of Photography Jack N. Green, two men who may know Eastwood's directing style better than anyone else. Green has been Eastwood's DP on 16 films, and Cox has been Eastwood's editor on 28, including this year's Jersey Boys and 2015's American Sniper. Their technical insight is invaluable.
* Next is the 30-minute featurette Behind the Scenes: "An Old-Fashioned Love Story: Making the Bridges of Madison County". The delightful short features clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and snippets of interviews with Eastwood, Streep, producer Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, editor Cox, DP Green, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, and supporting players Haynie, Slezak, and Corley. Everyone shares on-set anecdotes and essentially gods-up Eastwood (which is perfectly fine with me).
* The music video for "Doe Eyes" (Love Theme from The Bridges Of Madison County) is a four minute montage of scenes from the film set to the delicate theme composed by Eastwood and Lennie Neihaus.
* Finally, there is the 83 second trailer, and if studios didn't use the term "teaser trailer" in the mid-1990s, they should have with this. It consists of things that give you almost no idea what the film is about.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The modern-day segments are not good. I understand their role in the greater story, but when you have such raw passion between two mega-talents like Streep and Actor Eastwood, and then you interrupt that with a pair of serviceable but in-no-way-comparable character actors who play siblings trying to come to terms with the fact that their mother cheated on their father, it's like being ravaged in bed by your hottest lover and then having your kids burst into the room. The flow isn't just disrupted, it is shattered.
For the young viewers comes the hope that there is passion later in life. For the older viewers comes affirmation that things ain't over yet. If you don't already own a copy of The Bridges Of Madison County, what are you waiting for?
Not guilty. And yes, there is something in my eye.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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