Lowdown: The impossible love story between a married woman and a kin spirited traveller.
The Bridges of Madison County (1995) starts at the end. The adult son and daughter of a recently deceased mother review their mother’s will to learn the seemingly devoted to her husband mother (Meryl Streep) has had a love affair some time during their childhood which shaped the rest of her life. All the while they had no idea it ever took place!
Thus starts a film about missed opportunities, a film that through the depiction of a developing romance tells us that some times opportunities may not be presented to us at the right time and we just need to learn to live with that, as frustrating as that may seem. I will gladly argue that it is not atypical at all to hear such a lesson from actor/director Clint Eastwood; this type of wisdom is exactly up his street.
Then we flash back to the story itself. Streep's character, a post World War 2 migrant from Italy, lives in middle of nowhere USA (actually, Madison County) with the ex-soldier husband of hers and their kids at the farm the husband’s family lived in for more than a hundred years. Having seen what she’s seen, coming across the world to the USA, she yearns for more from life, and opportunity knocks on her door – literally – when Clint Eastwood, a National Geographic photographer assigned to cover the area’s bridges, gets lost and asks her for instructions. Streep is hospitable, Clint is a well travelled man of the world with the tools to satisfy Streep’s yearnings, and a spark is lit.
The rest of what is to come is obvious but still very well told, albeit [too] slowly. Streep’s acting is [yet again] superb, while Eastwood reminds us again that he is a more than capable actor even without a gun to his hand. The movie’s climatic ending is riveting, and although we’re well prepared and despite the over cheesiness of it all it is nice to see the son and daughter learn from their mother’s last lesson to ensure they do not miss out on their own opportunities. You can thus say that while there is pessimism in The Bridges of Madison County’s message there is also realism mixed with optimism: sure, the life is harsh, but at least we all have tools to make the most of the hand we're given.
Best scene: Streep and Eastwood listen to a blues radio station, just because I can’t think of better ways to celebrate intimacy with a person you love.
Overall: Some aspects of this film are better than others, but this is still a grand offer from a filmmaker with one of the richest portfolios around. 3.5 out of 5 stars.