Picks and Pans Review: The Bridges of Madison County
The movie, thank goodness, is better than the book. What's more surprising is that The Bridges of Madison County is an accomplished piece of moviemaking, one that has many honest, emotional moments and almost manages to triumph over the inherent limitations of its source material: Robert James Waller's tremendously successful but, to many, terribly cloying 1992 novel about a supersensitive, globe-trotting photographer (Eastwood) who finds the love of a lifetime, if only for four days in 1965, with an Italian war bride turned Iowa farmwife (Streep).
Bridges, directed by Eastwood, is a movie to wallow in, a big sweeping romance, but it is also—and this is when it works best—an intimate, two-character piece. Eastwood and Streep, either separately or together, are on-camera in almost every shot; what the movie gets exactly right is a woozy sense of middle-age lust and passion. Watch how Streep and Eastwood heat up her kitchen when she invites him over for dinner—her husband and kids are off showing a steer at the state fair—and, as the hour grows later, she gets this wonderful, slightly out-of-focus look in her eyes as she half-listens to Eastwood's prattle while coming closer, with every pull on her beer, to admitting to herself that she's going to bed this man.
Yet prattle it is. The film's chief deficiency is that Eastwood's character is one big overstuffed laundry bag of pompous, vacuous clichés. Every time he launches into one of his Meaning of Life speeches, you start wondering if it isn't time to harvest the corn.
The performances by the two stars couldn't be better though. Streep creates a touchingly vulnerable character who is both richer and more specific than the fantasy figure in Waller's book. It's a busy performance—she kicks the refrigerator door shut with a foot, tugs at her hair, flutters her fingers about her face when she blushes—but she knows, as does her director, when to drop the fussing and just let the camera roam over her face. Eastwood, his voice more whispery than ever and his skin gone to leather, has a leaner acting style, but the two mesh just fine. Also worthy is Annie Corley as Streep's adult daughter who posthumously discovers her mother's journals recording the affair. It is she who gets the movie's best line: "Who knew that, in between bake sales, my mother was Anaïs Nin?" (PG-13)