Saturday, September 3, 2016

Movie Review: "The Bridges of Madison County" (1995)

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Movie"The Bridges of Madison County"
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1995
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

A brother and sister learn their deceased mother (Meryl Streep) wants to be cremated and have her ashes scattered at Roseman bridge near their home in Iowa. Not understanding why, they go through her stuff and learn their mother had a secret impassioned four-day love affair with a National Geographic photographer (Clint Eastwood), who was in town doing a shoot of the covered bridges of Madison County.

Isn't it weird how so many Hollywood romances are about affairs and infidelity, and how so many deep romantic love stories are sprung out of just a few days spent with an individual, only to never see them again?

"The Bridges of Madison County" is directed by Clint Eastwood and is based on the Robert James Waller novel of the same name. It stars Meryl Streep as an Italian American housewife named Francesca Johnson, who has an affair with a National Geographic photographer named Robert Kincaid, played by Clint Eastwood, while her family is away for four days at a state fair. Upon her death, Francesca wrote in her will that she wanted her ashes to be scattered at the Roseman bridge, a request that throws her now grown-up children Michael and Carolyn, played by Victor Slezak and Annie Corely, for a complete loop. They just don't understand the request and wonder why she doesn't want to be buried with their father at the plots he purchased for the both of them. As they go through her things, they discover a journal explaining her request. This journal details in great length the aforementioned affair their mother had with this photographer, and how she even contemplated leaving with him so they could be together permanently. Their torrid, steamy, gripping love lasted but four days, but seemingly changed her life forever.

It is common that we learn things about our parents after they pass away, things we may have never known. These details are often hidden to spare feelings, to prevent negative reactions, to remain free from judgment, or to spare people things they might not be able to handle. This film does a tremendous job portraying these sentiments and more through this tale of a wild and romantic yet guilt-ridden and short-lived affair. As a director, Clint Eastwood shows the journey these two adult children are forced take as they learn of what happened with their mother and this mystery man, through their early feelings of betrayal to their eventual understanding and acceptance of it. Eastwood juxtaposes the uncovering of this relationship by these two individuals with the love between his character Robert and Streep's Francesca, and does so extremely well. He also tells this story in a purposefully elongated manner, taking the time needed to build up each character fully so we get a sense of who they are and why they do the things they do and act the way they act.

We get to examine the emotional journey Francesca takes from initial infatuation to giving in to her lustful desires and her ultimate decision to put her family first, even if it means never truly being happy. Streep puts on a commanding, brilliant performance, as always, but somehow, it seems more than that. As the audience, we feel her loneliness and her isolation, her curiosity and her struggle, and eventually, we feel her burning want and hunger for something different, something to transport her away from the life she knows, which leads her to a passionate love wracked with guilt. Streep is the only person that could have pulled this part off, and she earned an Oscar nomination for her efforts here. Her chemistry with Eastwood is surprisingly dynamite. Eastwood displays his proficiency for the craft in his portrayal of this rough yet tender lover, and is also quite stunning behind the camera as he and his cinematographer play with light and shadows to make the entire thing feel extra mood-driven.

Overall, though this is sure to be seen as a schmaltz-infested cheese-fest by some, "The Bridges of Madison County" is quite the moving film as the emotions feel genuine and never forced, the direction is top-notch, and the performances even more so. Eastwood knows how to pick his shots, and Streep knows how to act the hell out of them.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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