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Buddy Van Horn
A vicious serial-killer is on the loose in San Francisco and the police trace a link to a small town further down the coast. When Harry Callahan upsets the press and the mayor in his usual style, he's shipped out of town to investigate while the heat is on. With the help of his new Magnum handgun Harry goes on the trail leaving behind the usual trail of dead criminals along the way. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The apparent message is this: in a Dirty Harry film, the cop should stick to San Francisco, and Mr. Eastwood should remain in front of the camera, not behind it
"Sudden Impact," like all of the Dirty Harry movies starring Clint Eastwood, has some subtle messages about a lackluster American justice system with only a handful of people, some with a badge and some not, willing to stick their necks out in order to see the right thing done. That has always been the communiqué ducking beneath the insistent gunfire, slashing, and explosions that make up the bulk of these pictures. My problem with "Sudden Impact," apart from having been mostly bored by the film, was that it left me with these two very different realizations: in a Dirty Harry film, the hero should remain in San Francisco; Mr. Eastwood should remain in front of the camera.
This film, the only one which Mr. Eastwood directed as well as starred in, is by far the weakest. It is truly surprising, since it does start out very well. Of course, that's when the movie is still set in San Francisco. It is here that we get the Dirty Harry material that we look for. Early on, a punk arrested by Mr. Eastwood is let off scot-free by the courts. He gives the inspector a snide remark, Dirty Harry grabs him by the collar, berates him, and slams him against the elevator wall. Classic. More so is the famous diner sequence and the movie's signature line.
But shortly after this point, Dirty Harry takes a trip to San Paulo, tracking yet another serial killerone whose M.O. is shooting her victim once in the head and once in the genitalsand the movie goes completely downhill. It is no longer exciting or very funny. Instead, "Sudden Impact" becomes pretentious, depressing, and extremely ponderous. It's a movie in no hurry to see itself end; I only wish I could have felt the same.
A core problem is the lack of a commanding villainess. As in the original "Dirty Harry" from 1971, we see the murderer in a close-up at the very beginning, so there is no mystery for the audience to piece together. The difference is this: the psychotic sharpshooter from the original "Dirty Harry" was a disgusting and utterly repulsive creep. As played by Sondra Locke in this film, the rape victim taking her revenge on the men who molested her and her now-vegetative sister, is uninteresting. And what the screenplay has to offer Miss Locke is not a whole heck of a lot better. It utilizes the tiresome gimmick of flashbacks intercut with the killer executing her victims. The shooting parts are effectively handled, but the clumsy flashbacks trivialize them. Furthermore, the movie does not set itself a mind in how to portray Miss Locke: empathetic victim or scumbag. I think the movie was leaning more toward the former, but I kept on feeling disgust for her. Almost as much as I had for the snarling little twerps she was preying upon.
To make matters worse, Miss Locke is really the center focus of the story. She's almost the real star of the movie. Mr. Eastwood's Dirty Harry really plays second-fiddle. The movie chugs along with some lousy moments where they confront each other, including an all-time low for the series where they share a bed for the night. At that point in the film, I threw my hands in the air, ready to give up.
As the man standing behind the camera, Clint Eastwood disappoints this time around. He has demonstrated before and since "Sudden Impact" that he is a very capable director. The problem here is that he seems to have favored tossing out his own flair in exchange for imitating the men who directed him before. With the exception of the San Francisco scenesyes, they are really the best part of the movie. I cannot emphasize that enoughwe do not see his director's personae in the images. It does not feel like a Clint Eastwood film; it feels like a second-rate imitation of a Don Siegel film or a Ted Post film. I wish Mr. Eastwood had either trusted his instincts or allowed another director to handle the material. Maybe he did learn the lesson, as Buddy Van Horn directed the fifth (and better) entry in the series, "The Dead Pool."
Just as surprising as the overall boredom of the film was the insulting sting of its ending: an ending that I cannot imagine the Dirty Harry Callahan of the previous three movies in the franchise would have allowed to be. Here the movie's subtle message about justice and doing the right thing contradicts itself, and it left me feeling disturbed and unclean. "Sudden Impact" is about as joylessly depressing and clumsy as its nighttime cinematography. Dirty Harry has surrounded himself with nobody interesting. His semi-partner in the film, Albert Popwell (finally given a good-guy role in the franchise) is underwritten, and Mr. Eastwood's most frequent companion is a flatulent bulldog. The humor is not very humorous. The action is not very exciting. The film is surprisingly dull.
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