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Dark, Menacing, and Ambiguous
on March 5, 2004
To me, this film is even more impressive today than it was when I first saw it. Frankly, when seeing it 20 years ago, I was thrown off-balance by the character whom Eastwood plays, Wes Block, a police detective in New Orleans. He pursues a serial killer of prostitutes, a psychopath with whom he seems to share similar psycho-sexual preoccupations. Presumably this was a risky part for Eastwood to take on. Under skillful but deferential direction by Richard Tuggle, he explores with great skill certain depraved tendencies within himself which were much more shocking in 1984 than they seem to be, unfortunately, two decades later. Block's personal situation is complicated even more by the fact that he a single parent, raising two daughters. It is also important to remember that his personal conduct creates the risk of compromising his professional integrity as a law enforcement officer. For these and other reasons, Block is a much more enigmatic character than, for example, Harry ("what you see is what you get") Callahan.
In the role of Beryl Thibodeaux, Genevieve Bujold portrays a criminal psychologist who is attracted to Block as they work together even as she begins to sense and then contend with at least some of the demons which torment him. So much of this film occurs (both literally and symbolically) in darkness. Even a trained professional such as Thibodeaux is frustrated in her attempts to understand someone for whom she feels sincere affection. Special credit should be given to Bruce Surtees for superb cinematography which is coordinated seamlessly with the often depressing storyline. He had worked with Eastwood in previous films which include Dirty Harry (1971), Play Misty for Me (also 1971), Pale Rider (1975), and The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976). The supporting cast is excellent, notably Eastwood's daughter Alison who plays his older Amanda in the film, and Dan Hadeya as Detective Molinari. Eventually, after the serial killer kidnaps Amanda Block, her distraught and enraged father pursues her to a riveting conclusion when....
Others are much better qualified than I to express this opinion but I think Wes Block is a character which begins a new transition for Eastwood the actor. Thereafter, the characters he plays tend to be of the "sadder but wiser" variety, much less self-assured, more fatalistic in their view of the world, skeptical and sometimes cynical, reluctant to trust anyone or anything, and are -- for me, therefore -- much more interesting. This is an especially upsetting film which has lost little (if any) of its dramatic impact. Twenty years after its initial release and probably because I have become a grandfather, there are certain situations in Tightrope which are even more upsetting now than ever before.