The Bridges of Madison County: Deluxe Edition
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Annie Corley, Victor Slezak, Jim Haynie
The Bridges of Madison County, based on the insanely popular novel from Robert Waller, tells the story of a love affair between Francesca Johnson (Streep), an Iowa housewife and Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer (Eastwood). The story unfolds via the framing device of Francesca's grown children tending to the disposition of her affairs after her death. They stumble upon letters and documents from their mother that tell the story of her four day affair decades previously when the children were away with their father. Flashing back and forth, we see the way the affair developed, how it ended, and why it lingered in Francesca's memory for the subsequent decades as well as the effect that these revelations have on her children.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been able to get into the whole "romantic adultery" subgenre of literature and film. Even the cinematic high water marks, most of which have come from director David Lean, usually leave me cold. Attempting to set that personal prejudice aside, I would have to admit that The Bridges of Madison County is one of the better made entries in the subgenre. Eastwood shows tasteful restraint in almost all aspects of the production, making performance and editorial decisions that ground what amounts to a fairly pedestrian story in realistic character detail. Even some of the more awkward lines lifted from the original novel by screenwriter Richard LaGravanese sound natural coming out of the mouths of Eastwood and Streep.
Editorially, Eastwood lets scenes play out at a deliberate pace, creating the requisite amount of sexual tension by keeping dialog stripped down and leaving enough space for the viewer to fill in the things not spoken. He even creates a fairly effective suspense sequence near the film's conclusion. Streep pulls off another of her trademark accents (Italian this time) without ever seeming overly mannered. As is usually the case with Eastwood films, the supporting cast is well chosen and seems like a collection of real people rather than half-heartedly de-glammed Hollywood players.
The flip side of the deliberate pacing is that if this movie is not your cup of tea, it will seem interminably long compared to the relatively minimal amount of plot contained in its running time.
This DVD represents the first widescreen presentation of the film on DVD. The presentation takes up the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. While that factor alone would be enough to give it an edge over the previous DVD release, the image quality is still somewhat disappointing. While the film was shot in a style that deliberately results in a somewhat grainy image, this transfer does not really do it justice, overly softening an already diffuse image and not adequately resolving grain patterns. There are also sporadic digital video artifacts that pop up in the darkest areas of some of the many dimly lit scenes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack reproduces the film's highly restrained theatrical mix faithfully. The surround field is used sparingly when at all and there is rarely a moment that lends itself to exploiting the LFE channel. On the other hand, this is entirely appropriate for the film's aesthetic, and fidelity is very good. While the score essentially consists of the "Doe Eyes" theme composed by Eastwood with frequent musical collaborator Lennie Niehaus, source music is used heavily throughout the film, primarily blues/jazz numbers from the likes of Johnny Hartman and Dinah Washington. Other than that, much of the film plays out over a bed of ambient environmental sounds, which are well integrated into the mix.
In addition to bumping the transfer to a 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation, Warner also added some informative extras to do justice to the "Deluxe Edition" moniker.
First up is a Commentary by Joel Cox and Jack N. Green. Cox was the editor on the film while Green was the cinematographer. Both have been regular collaborators with Eastwood for many years. Cox as far back as 1976's The Enforcer and Green as far back as 1986's Heartbreak Ridge. Short of Eastwood actually sitting down to do a commentary himself, which is becoming progressively less likely with every DVD release of his films, you will not likely hear a track with more insight into his working process than this one. While Cox and Green are both obviously very fond of Eastwood and frequently are highly complimentary, they stop short of non-specific fawning, and provide lots of specific details about why they enjoy working with him so much. General observations about working with Eastwood are favored about 60/40 over specific observations about the film. This track is definitely worth a listen for fans of Eastwood in general or the film in particular.
Next up is a featurette entitled An Old Fashioned Love Story: Making "The Bridges of Madison County". It runs 29 minutes and 22 seconds and is presented in a 16:9 enhanced widescreen aspect ratio. This featurette follows the standard talking heads and film clips format of other such DVD extras, but thankfully does not rely on any archival EPK-style promotional on set interviews. It is divided into eight sections with on screen titles offering the name, but no corresponding disc chapter stops. The chapters are titled: "Adapting a Phenomenon" (the books popularity and the process of adapting it to film), "Opposites Attract" (Eastwood, Streep, and their characters), "Building the Ensemble" (The supporting cast), "A Sense of Place" (the Iowa locations), "Eye of the Storm" (the crew and Eastwood's way of interacting with them), "Letting it Breathe" (Editing style), "End of the Dream" (The film's turning point kitchen scene and ending), and "One for the Ages" (retrospective thoughts on the film's success and lasting appeal). On-screen commentators include Producer Kathleen Kennedy, actress Meryl Streep, Editor Joel Cox, Clint Eastwood, Screenwriter Richard LaGravanese, Cinematographer Jack N. Green, Actor Jim Haynie, Actor Victor Slezak, Actress Annie Corley, and Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall. A lot of the information overlaps with topics covered by Cox and Green in the commentary, but the featurette has the advantage of a more diverse collection of perspectives.
"Doe Eyes" Music Video is presented in 4:3 video and runs four minutes and 20 seconds. It is nothing more than a montage of clips from the film run against the instrumental theme written for the movie by Eastwood and Niehaus.
The one minute and 22 second Theatrical Trailer presented in 16:9 enhanced video seems more like a teaser than a trailer. The first minute or so consists of scenes from the film with Streep providing voiceover in character. The last twenty or so seconds have the "Warner Bros. Presents…" guy saying the names of the stars and the title of the film.
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no inserts.
The Bridges of Madison County is one if the better modern films in the star-crossed adulterous lovers sub-genre of romantic dramas. Not being a fan of the film, I can at least appreciate the skill with which it was made. It is presented for the first time on a 16:9 enhanced DVD, although the transfer has some video artifacts that do not quite do justice to the cinematographic style. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is restrained but appropriate for the material with very good fidelity. Extras consist of an informative commentary from frequent Eastwood collaborators Joel Cox and Jack N. Green as well as a well assembled newly produced featurette with substantial comments from most of the key contributors to the film's production.