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The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

December 8, 2010

9/10 Bypassed Certainties

My favorite actress and favorite actor both in the same place and doing what they do best. How in the hell did it take me so long to get around to this?

The Bridges of Madison County is about a woman in the 1960s who grew up in Italy, married young to an American soldier, moved to his family farm in Iowa, had herself two kids and settled into the lonely life of a Midwest housewife. Then one day a ruggedly handsome photographer on assignment for National Geographic shows up at her doorstep while her family’s away at a week-long horse competition of some sort. Before she knows it, she gives this stranger the tour of the town, invites him in for iced tea, invites him over for dinner, and as the days pass, their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love the likes of which she’s never known and might not be able to hold on to.

For the longest time, I always associated this movie with being for the older movie-going crowd, the crowd that gets the Senior discounts and can probably relate to the subject material here far more than an unmarried twenty-something can. Chances are that that preconceived notion of mine is directly tied into this being every grandparent on Earth’s favorite movie of all-time (it’s a fact, ask ’em yourself), but I’m an idiot for letting that bias cheat me out of a moviegoing experience that I would usually jump at. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s a Clint movie. I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed. This must be what Bill Buckner felt like.

But if you’re in the same boat as I was, rest assured, enjoying this movie does not require an AARP membership and you don’t need to have lived the story to be affected by it.

So let’s start with Clint, because as we all know, Clint is the man. The other thing we all know about Clint is that he probably shouldn’t have anything to do with this movie. I’d be shocked as shit if there were a producer in ’95 who came across this script and thought, “Get Harry Callahan on the phone.” For a guy who’s made a career out of personifying badass and honing his scowl to the point where it might as well be registered as a weapon, it’s actually pretty impressive that he decided to take on this project even if it’s completely outside of his on-screen comfort zone.

Clint plays our world-traveling photog, Robert Kincaid, and (un)surprisingly, he totally pulls it off. He smiles a lot, he’s in touch with his own feelings, and while I’ve never been one to endorse infidelity, I could hardly blame a gal for two-timing their hubby if Clint-effing-Eastwood rolled up to her front door. It’s just cool to see Clint playing as against-type as possible, showing us this soft, debonair side of him that we never knew existed. Kincaid is a great, honest character and Clint does a fantastic job bringing him to life.

And opposite Clint is Meryl-effing-Streep as our Italian fish out of water, Francesca (what a name). Her fake accent works, and since this is Meryl we’re talking about, she actually makes everything work. But Francesca is the heart of this movie, and as much as I felt for Richard, it pales in how I felt for her. What’s most interesting about her situation isn’t so much the choice she has to make, but that she does in fact love the person she’s married to and the person she’s married to loves her right back. Her husband isn’t villainized, it’s not like she’s sitting on the porch every freakin’ day just waiting for her knight in shining armor to save her from this wreck of a life she’s been roped into, it’s a good life she has, it’s a life she loves in some ways, but is it a life worth giving up to pursue another life entirely?

It’s a great “What would you do?” scenario that doesn’t paint its characters or their actions with a black and white palette, because right and wrong tends to come in a very grey hue when dealing with these kinds of things. But anyway, Meryl is the bomb as usual, she nabbed one of her many Oscar nods for her performance here, and she continues to re-up her existence as a living Goddess with each new thing I see her in.

A huge amount of credit also goes to writer Richard LaGravenese for adapting such a genuine, natural script out of something that could have easily been chick flick trash. You know how the story’s gonna end within the first ten minutes since it’s all told in flashback by Francesca’s kids in the wake of her death, and while it probably would have been nice to not have that spoiled for us from the get-go, the upside is that it helps focus the story on the Richard and Francesca’s relationship rather than using them as a kind of means to an end.

It’s a fantastic marriage of great acting and great writing, it’s wonderful to watch these two go from playful strangers to conflicted lovers over the course of such a brief period of time that ends up being the most important week of their lives. And I actually really like the flashback approach along with the way it brings the infidelity aspect full circle with her kids’ own marriages, and during the few melodramatic scenes that I would have rolled my eyes at had someone else been behind the wheel, I was getting genuinely choked up. Can’t be easy to justify a touchy premise like this as a writer, but LaGravenese does it beautifully.

When I picked up The Clint Eastwood Collection last month, I thought this would be the last movie I’d ever get around to watching, but thanks to my good buddy Fred for suggesting it because I obviously had no idea what I was missing. The Bridges of Madison County might not be the best pro-marriage advocate out there, but it’s very pro-heart in ways in aspects that movies rarely touch upon. It’s not my favorite thing by Eastwood, but for a movie that for all intents and purposes should have no place on Eastwood’s resume, it’s exceptional.

Awesome date movie, too.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 6:07 am

    good on your good buddy Fred… this is just a great movie. I caught it on tv when I was still a teenager and kept thinking to myself.. ‘why am I enjoying this so much?’ its just a simple story beautifully told.
    had to google Bill Buckner… my american buddy is a Mets fan. we went to a game once. the score was Mets 2-0 Brewers. it wasnt an exciting game. i bought a great Mets cap though, that I still have.

    • December 8, 2010 10:23 am

      you know, this is three movies in a row you and i have agreed on. this is blowing my mind.

      sorry the Mets game was a bore, but the Brewers aren’t exactly much of a team to see them play against. glad you got a hat though, big fan of Mets hats myself.

  2. December 8, 2010 8:54 am

    I’ve always enjoyed this movie, and you hit on all the best reasons. Glad you finally found it.

  3. Nick H permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:24 pm

    Hey speaking of excellent acting duos, when you get the chance could you do me a solid and review “The Score” with De Niro and Brando. Trying to figure out if its worth renting/owning.

    • December 8, 2010 1:27 pm

      Haven’t seen that in ages, but if I remember correctly, Norton stole the show there. Will give it another watch.

  4. December 8, 2010 5:05 pm

    I remember being really touched by this movie though the details are a bit hazy now. Glad to see a guy’s perspective and your review is always so perceptive (now try to say those two words together fast :D) Clint really is the man.

    Another love story drama of Streep I remember liking was Falling In Love with De Niro. Man, they don’t make love stories like that anymore.

    • December 10, 2010 8:51 am

      Thanks! Nice to get all lovey dovey and switch things up every once in a while. Glad you agree that Clint is the man, because he totally is. Never heard of Falling in Love, will put it on the queue though. Thanks for the heads up!

  5. December 8, 2010 7:16 pm

    I remeber not being a fan of either the film or the book. Maybe it had to do with my state of mind at the time, but I just never found the relationship that compelling. I might need to watch it again to see if my views have changed after all these years.

  6. Darren permalink
    December 8, 2010 7:38 pm

    Can you believe that I have yet to see this? As you siad, the winning combo is there, but it never works its way up to the top of my “must watch” pile. I blame all those horrible romances for souring the genre for me. Or, I guess, myself for being lazy.

    • December 10, 2010 8:51 am

      haha. happened to me for the longest time, too, but it’s totally worth bumping up. hope you dig it, man.

  7. Khurram Hameed permalink
    December 9, 2010 4:04 am

    Its a great movie that i watched almost ten years ago.Good Review as well.

  8. Khurram Hameed permalink
    December 9, 2010 4:14 am

    Clint Eastwood movies that i like
    Dirt Harry
    Magnum Force
    Million Dollar Baby
    Bridges of Madison County
    The Good,The Bad and The Ugly
    Gran Torino

    • December 10, 2010 8:52 am

      All winners right there. “Man’s got to know his limitations.”

  9. December 9, 2010 1:59 pm

    Clint can do no wrong in my book… Great review !

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