A gang of hoods with guns drawn chases after an escaped chicken that would be dinner. Within the first minute the director has set up his entire film, the tone a mixture of extreme viciousness and absurd humor, the theme of the “normalcy” of violence (these guys think nothing of pulling a pistol on a bird!) The chicken as metaphor for the photographer hero, both innocents caught up in a cycle of brutality beyond control. The director strips the film bare – no unnecessary dialogue or shots – diluted to its very essence. Dirty Harry is nowhere to be found.
No, this is the brilliant Brazilian flick “City of God” directed by Fernando Meirelles, and it was released on video around the same time as Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster “Mystic River” – a bloated piece of filmmaking if ever there was one. Though the films share little in common except arising from novel adaptations concerning childhood friends taking different paths, watching the two in the same week served to highlight something I’d long suspected. Dirty Harry can’t shoot straight.
In a nutshell, the problems with “Mystic River” start where all bad filmmaking begins – at the script. Even the Oscar-caliber performances from the eager cast can’t save a film that reads like a daytime soap. Kevin Bacon’s character with the estranged wife who calls him at the most inopportune times, yet doesn’t say a word. Eastwood allows only the wife’s mute lips to appear in the frame. The point of this mystery is anyone’s guess. I was waiting for the woman to be revealed as the killer of the Sean Penn character’s daughter, my brain desperately trying to piece into the movie this extraneous character that turned out to be not a murderess, but added baggage to weigh down a “heavyweight” film. But then my focus was really supposed to be on Tim Robbins’ character as killer and in the end we find out yes, he’s a murderer, but not of his friend’s daughter. The guy’s really a “redeemer” who happened to dispense with a creepy pedophile on the same night the teenage party girl was killed. Only in Hollywood would an ending this squeaky clean occur – and only in Hollywood would Clint Eastwood be hailed as a great director because of (in spite of) it.
Perhaps Fernando could invite Clint to vacation down in Brazil sometime. A housing project in the slums of Rio could be just what Harry needs to dirty up a bit.