Matthew Lickona 1:15 p.m., May 22
Clint Eastwood's somber meditation on chance, fate, doom; scarred souls and endless repercussions; violence begetting violence. Just as Unforgiven was an act of penance for the body counts in his Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns as well as in his self-directed imitation Leones (High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider), this can be viewed as an act of penance for the lone-wolf vigilantism of his Dirty Harry urban shoot-'em-ups: a kind of cleansed Harry. (There is no room here for Eastwood the actor, standing aside for the "liberal" casting of Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, and their highly emotional, tearful, unstoical, un-Eastwoody histrionics.) Although formulated as a murder mystery, it is not narrowly focussed on the investigation, but divides its time more or less evenly among three main characters, and expands continuously into the specific milieu, the complex personal relationships, the affected and ongoing lives, in fact life in general, life with a capital "L." All throughout, it sustains a tone of lamentation, underscored by the churchy musical theme composed by Eastwood himself (albeit orchestrated by his trusted collaborator, Lennie Niehaus). The retributive anger never supplants the sorrow; the release never comes. Admittedly, the outcome of the case depends upon a fortuitous coincidence that reeks of mystery-making for its own sake: a previously unrevealed second murder on the same night as the first. Yet the solution to the original murder is not overly tricksy, is perhaps even overly obvious; and the mood of the moment in any case is not one of parlor games and "gotcha." The honest -- the aggrieved -- the penitent -- emotionalism of the film makes up for either the fortuitousness or the obviousness, as necessary. Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden. 2003.
— Duncan Shepherd
- Rated R