Clint Eastwood and Co. have performed a considerable job of alchemy on The Bridges of Madison County turning Robert James Waller’s slender, treacly romance into a handsomely crafted, beautifully acted adult love story. Readers of the book will find the sexual heat reduced, along with the author’s most egregiously sentimental excesses, while longtime Clint Eastwood fans may have divided reactions to seeing their hero in his most touchy-feely role to date.
The story, which even at 171 book pages felt heavily padded, could scarcely be simpler. Photographer Robert Kincaid, on assignment in Madison County in 1965, stops at the farmhouse of Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), whose husband and two teenage kids are out of town, to ask directions to the area’s photogenic covered bridges, and the two embark on a four-day fling that deeply marks both of them for the rest of their lives.
In contrast to the novel’s chaotic structural devices, Richard LaGravenese has smartly framed the story around the confessional narrative of the affair left for Francesca’s children to read after her death.
Project is well known for having gone through several writers and proposed directors, including Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack and Bruce Beresford, and one can only feel that it finally landed in the right hands.
All the choices made by LaGravenese represent improvements on the original text: the amplification of Francesca’s children provides helpful echoes to the main drama; the addition of another adulteress in the small town of Winterset creates a parallel, and more tragic, alternative to Francesca.
It’s Douglas Sirk-type women’s weepie material, handled by Eastwood with the utmost tact, maturity and restraint. The attention to detail, in both character and rural atmosphere, is superb. Onscreen together a great majority of the time, the two leads come up aces.
Nominations: Actress Meryl Streep