Imagine a serial killer/rapist is on the loose and your loved ones are in danger. You get to choose the cop who will protect them. Do you pick Clint Eastwood or Homer Simpson? If it seems like a silly question, you haven't seen Tightrope.
Let's pause for a warning. If you don't want the movie's alleged surprises spoiled, don't read any more. This review is dedicated to the notion that giving away absolutely everything about the plot is a public service if it helps prevent people from wasting their time. Now, back to our quiz.
Before seeing this movie, I would have picked Eastwood to save my family. After seeing it, I'd have to ask whether it's the Dirty Harry Eastwood or the Tightrope Eastwood. If it's Clint from Tightrope, I'd choose Homer.
With Homer Simpson on the job, there's a good chance he'll do something stunningly stupid. The killer will be paralyzed with laughter long enough for Chief Wiggum to amble by and 'cuff the guy. With the Tightrope Eastwood on the job, there is an even better chance he'll do something stunningly stupid. But it won't be funny and the killer won't even have to pause for a chuckle while he makes his escape, all the while pondering the good fortune that has given him a nitwit nemesis who allows him to go free to kill again and again.
At least Homer Simpson is sometimes aware he's not very bright. Eastwood's cop has no such moments of clarity. He lurches from one boneheaded move to another while bodies fall all around him.
This is a plodding tale in which Eastwood's cop is on the trail of a serial killer in New Orleans. We're asked to believe the cop recognizes in himself some of the same kinky sexual urges that drive the killer. But the script is so underdeveloped and Eastwood's performance is so somnambulant that there's little suggestion he thinks about sex at all, much less about anything erotically offbeat.
Sure, he's the divorced father of two daughters so presumably he's had sex. And he has a girlfriend. But when he's in a warehouse filled with Mardi Gras floats he caresses a giant fiberglass Ronald Reagan head more tenderly than he does her. If you think the women in his life are nothing more than targets for the serial killer, you've seen movies like this before.
The best thing about Tightrope is that the stupidity of Eastwood's character becomes clear gradually as each thing he does is more lamebrained than then previous thing. This way, we're prepared when he reaches the peak of stupidity near the movie's end.
To start, it is stupid when he sends a character into a warehouse. Alone. At night. To meet the killer. But that's not as stupid as when he is surprised that the character ends up dead. In the warehouse. At night. Alone. Except for the killer.
And that's not as stupid as when he knows the killer is in his house and he tells his daughters to hide in the closet. Without first checking to see if the killer is in there too.
That's almost as dumb as when he's looking for the killer but he turns his back on a room he hasn't searched yet. This allows the killer to jump him from behind because Eastwood is too busy making sure the moonlight reflects interestingly on his craggy good looks. (He repeatedly sacrifices common sense for camera angles.)
Dumber still is when he's fought the killer, the bad guy has escaped and Eastwood returns to the house. He doesn't tell his terror-stricken daughters that he and they are safe until after he opens the door of the upstairs closet in which they're cowering. This forces them to endure several more minutes of terror while they listen to the approaching footsteps that for all they know are those of the man who is going to kill them. Granted, Eastwood is the actor for whom movie critics dusted off "laconic" after they stopped needing it for Gary Cooper. But the man who made a catchphrase of "Go ahead, make my day" could manage to call out a simple, "It's me."
The stupidity of Eastwood's character is so powerful it inspires stupidity in others as well. Genevieve Bujold, playing Eastwood's new girlfriend, is being strangled in her home by the serial killer who has just done away with the several cops who are guarding her. Apparently it takes longer to choke to death petite star Bujold than it does to finish off half a police force of extras. That's good because it gives Eastwood time to get there and save her.
But Bujold knows better than to trust her survival to her dimwitted boyfriend, so she takes matters into her own hands. She stabs the man who is strangling her. Does she plunge the scissors into his heart? No. His temple? No. His shoulder? Yes. And then she looks astonished when he pulls the scissors out and comes at her with them.
Fortunately, Eastwood's stupidity is so virulent it's infected the killer/rapist as well. Instead of stabbing her with the scissors Bujold has thoughtfully given him, he goes back to choking her. And again, it takes a very long time.
Several times during the movie Eastwood is shown looking out of the window of his office in police headquarters. He turns his back to his desk as he gazes thoughtfully (we're supposed to believe) into the distance. It's an unfortunate choice because on the desk is a folder of newspaper clippings and one of the articles has the killer's name in the headline. It takes Eastwood two seconds of glancing at the headline to realize who is strangling people. If he had invested those two seconds at the beginning of the movie, he would have saved many lives and prevented the killer from stalking Eastwood's daughters and his girlfriend.
Worse, the name in the headline belongs to a cop Eastwood's character had arrested 11 years earlier for rape. If I arrested a felonious colleague, I'm pretty sure I'd remember. There's no reason Eastwood shouldn't remember too. Except that would have made a very short movie.
But shortening this movie would be a very good thing. Remember the Clint Eastwood/Homer Simpson choice? Keep it in mind if you're ever tempted when Tightrope plays on TV. Simpsons reruns will probably be playing on a different channel, and they would be the better choice. At least when you watch The Simpsons, you're not the one smacking your forehead and saying, "D'oh!"
This is my favorite Clint Eastwood movie, because while he is a cop, he is nothing like the Dirty Harry character. He is hunting a psychopathic killer of women, but the Eastwood character is not quite in one psychological piece. He has difficulty relating to women, at one point in order to engage in sex with a prostitute he first must handcuff her to the bedposts. There are other hints of psychological instability until you wonder if Eastwood will not lose his mind before he catches the killer. … more