Tightrope (1984)

“Maybe I’ll take you up on that sometime.”

Synopsis:
A bitterly divorced detective (Clint Eastwood) with two young daughters (Alison Eastwood and Jenny Beck) delves into the underworld of New Orleans while pursuing a wily, mask-wearing serial killer (Marco St. John).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this “Clint Eastwood psychological thriller, written and moodily directed by his protege, Richard Tuggle”, as “atmospheric and suspenseful”, noting that it’s “a bit overrated but still compelling”. He points out that this was “the picture that swayed the critics of America to finally take Eastwood seriously”, given his attempt to break away from his Dirty Harry persona and delve in murkier psychological waters. Yet Peary argues that this film actually wasn’t a “rare attempt” in this regard, given that “Eastwood [plays] with his image in all his films”; Peary posits that far from being a “variation” on Dirty Harry, Harry and the character of “Wes Block” in Tightrope represent “antithetical attitudes toward law enforcement”, given that “Harry is a maverick cop, [while] Block plays it by the book”, among other reasons.

The in-depth character analysis provided in Peary’s review of Tightrope hints at part of the reason for its inclusion in his book, which is that audiences and critics at the time (including Peary) were understandably intrigued by Eastwood’s cult of personality, and eager to see what he would come up with next. Unfortunately, viewed years after the fact, this particular entry in Eastwood’s estimable oeuvre comes up short. While it’s certainly “suspenseful” during key sequences (indeed, there are some genuinely freaky moments that had me glued to the screen), it’s ultimately too cliched and derivative to be entirely successful as a thriller. The trope of a cop seduced by the underbelly of the city he’s paid to serve and protect has been handled numerous times on-screen (most recently in Werner Herzog’s smarmy but effective Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, taking place in the same city); and while the cat-and-mouse maneuvers between Eastwood and St. John are predictably chilling, they don’t really offer anything new to the genre.

Meanwhile, we don’t learn enough about Eastwood’s divorce to understand why he’s so bitter about women, or what role his own character flaws might have played in the breakup of his marriage. (His ex-wife literally appears as a cipher on-screen, and, if I recall correctly, may not even speak any lines.) If you do decide to check this one out, however, watch for Genevieve Bujold in a “strong and appealing” role as a “rape-crisis therapist who gets [Eastwood] to confront his hostility toward women”; she’s one of the film’s strongest elements.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Genevieve Bujold as Beryl

Must See?
No, unless you’re an Eastwood completist.

Links:

One Response to “Tightrope (1984)”

  1. Not a must. A very flawed film with some interesting elements.

    The film suggests that there is some dark connection between Eastwood’s character and the serial killer at large – that they share a deeply duplicitous nature. But that isn’t really true. The killer – who bizarrely seems superhuman – is only in the film to keep it going. It’s ultimately not important that we understand anything about him or what he does because his alleged connection with Eastwood’s Block doesn’t hold.

    Unlike the ‘bad lieutenants’ in the films by Herzog and Ferrara, Block is not a wacko. He’s a fairly serious-minded, recently divorced cop who has an uncontrolled libido: he has a lot of difficulty saying no to sex made available to him through his job. He’s not even particularly hostile towards women; he just has the tough exterior of a cop who handles murder cases.

    The film manages to keep viewer interest mainly due to the performances. Eastwood isn’t bad, Eastwood’s daughter Alison is nicely reserved and rather touching, and Bujold (fresh off her knockout performance in ‘Choose Me’) adds solid weight when allowed. (Though she’s on the hard-edged side, she could have been moreso; when she’s instructing women how to defend themselves, she leaves the option of the groin area as a last alternative – why so coy?)

    Be prepared to be scratching your head a good deal throughout. While suspense is maintained fairly well, much of what goes on is noticeably improbable (i.e., at one point, the killer makes it known through a minor character that Eastwood’s major ‘problem’ is that he’s really gay and doesn’t know it – huh?!).

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