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The Bridges of Madison County

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Bridges of Madison County

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep
Director: Clint Eastwood
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: June 1995
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Annie Corley, Victor Slezak, Jim Haynie

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY asks the question is there love life after 40/60? It answers in the affirmative. For the 40+ set we have an Iowa farm woman named Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) who has been married to a local Iowa farm man so long that she can not count the years and yet retains her heavy, (theoretically) Italian accent. Representing the 60+ crowd we have a National Geographic photographer by the name of Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood).

The screenplay by Richard LaGravenese is based on the novel by Robert James Waller that the entire Western world except me has read, reread and cried themselves to sleep with. The script starts with a grown sister and brother in their 40s opening their mother Francesca's will. It seems she wants to be cremated and have her ashes dumped by one of the local covered bridges. Her children are shocked until they discover her diaries. The movie is then told as a long series of flashbacks based on the diaries.

Francesca falls into a deep, romantic love with Robert while her family is off to the county fair for four days. The movie is the story of this affair. We are talking serious, romantic, long lasting stuff here, not your usual sexual fling that Hollywood is so fond of. Saying they fall head over heels in love, does not do it justice. Hmm, so you had a four day business trip planned? Rethinking your plans now are you?

Most of the plot is predicable after the initial setup and that is okay. The point is not to guess the next plot twist, but to identify with the characters and vicariously live their romance and have that illicit fling you subconsciously always wanted. I thought the plot outline was wonderful, but I found the writing pretty leaden most of the time with sporadic poetic or more lively parts. I think I would have hated the novel, but maybe not.

The cinematography by Jack N. Green, whose best previous work was in the UNFORGIVEN where he got an Oscar nomination, was lovely. The outdoor scenes were easy to make picture card perfect and serene. The tricky part, and where the artistry came in, was the indoor scenes at night. Wonderful, radiant glows filled the house. Watching it was like drinking a warm cup of Earl Grey tea. It filled your body with contentment.

The directing (Clint Eastwood) and the editing is of the slow and dreamy school of movie making. Lots of silence or throw away dialog so that the characters can just sit around and stare romantically into each other's eyes. The pacing found me checking my watch frequently. I would not recommend the late showing, you may fall asleep in the slow parts.

There are several precious scenes in the show. There is a romantic walk after dark that has a great mood to it. The chirping crickets really add to the ambiance. As a contrast, the scene in the local coffee shop is quite an eye opener and nicely done.

The acting by Eastwood is the best in the movie. He is major handsome with his thick salt and pepper hair and his rugged good looks. He plays a more quiet and sensitive character than I have ever seen him play before. He was natural and believable.

Streep, on the other hand, was constantly and visibly acting. Her accent was unnecessary and a major detraction. Her morose characterization of Francesca was overdone. It was a parody of Sophie's Choice, but with a different European accent, except they both sounded the same. Whereas Eastwood's performance was convincing, I did not buy Streep's. All this notwithstanding, you can count on her getting an Academy Award nomination for it. The Academy members will be in awe of it. For a much better performance by Streep having an affair, see FALING IN LOVE. In it, she has genuine chemistry with Robert De Niro and does not use her one-size-fits-all European accent.

The minor characters were good. The sister was perky and interesting in a small part. She had a trust in her mother's judgment that was sweet. The actor who played Streep's farmer husband was appropriately simple and boring. Afterall, the way Francesca described her husband was that he was good to the kids and was "clean".

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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