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While it is not nearly as ambitious, not remotely as career-defining, as Mystic River, it proves in the last analysis to be a film of remarkable gravity and bravery. No quick knockout itself, it is more like a late-round TKO, a well-paced war of attrition. You will likely feel, at the completion of Eastwood's standard two-and-a-quarter hours, that you have come down a long road; been somewhere; been through something. The director, as always, takes his time yet doesn't linger, doesn't build things up too big, doesn't bleed them dry. He understands the value of understatement. He understands a ballad is not an opera. And where he, in the excruciatingly emotional Mystic River, sent out Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon to do his crying for him, he here dares to give it a try himself, and he does quite all right at it. (I am purposely withholding the particulars of the plot. I will say only that when he gets around to telling his protégée the meaning of "Mo Cuishle," tears will be brought to plenty of other pairs of eyes as well.) Significantly, Eastwood's tears are shed, in the presence of a priest, over the prospect -- the very thought -- of taking another life. He thus continues his self-imposed penance over the bodies he has left littering the screen in his wake. Which is to say, the wake of the Man with No Name, Dirty Harry Callahan, Josey Wales, et al. More than just the custodian of classicism in Hollywood filmmaking, Eastwood has become -- in the broadest, most inclusive sense, not strictly a moral sense -- the conscience of American cinema. No one else has applied for the post.

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