“The fourth best film to watch while in-flight”. OK, much as I wish I could leave things there, that’s a slightly unfair description – particularly when the films that beat it were Bridesmaids, The Hangover and Meet the Parents. But the Gatwick Airport “survey” gets closer than you’d think. Overlong, perilously sentimental, narrated to within an inch of its life, few films are built to hold the viewer’s hand as systemically as this does. Its status as an evergreen IMDb favourite is, then, entirely natural. But if that’s all it were, I would have had no hesitation to end the review at Gatport’s inadvertently piercing critique. Arresting composition in the prison caught the eye – and made up for some iffy editing – but as usual it was the performances that kept me onside. You’d be surprised at how much you can stomach when you buy into the people on screen. Even this schmaltz buffet couldn’t subdue the twinkle in Morgan Freeman’s eye.
90s western directed by and starring Clint Eastwood that set the Academy’s loins alight, which can only be because this is A Clint Eastwood Western. There are a couple of glaring problems here. Foremost is a screenplay afflicted by chronic unsubtlety — rarely are character traits hauled onto the screen in such obvious terms. This compounds, or is compounded, by Clint Eastwood’s very real limitations as an actor. Many a film has been carried by charm, and Eastwoodian charm has done its share of heavy-lifting. But you can’t charm your way out of corners in a character drama — these live and die by performances even when scripts fall flat. His one-note delivery fails to sell the central idea behind his role, and though the writing hasn’t helped him, one will find the relevant indictment in his co-stars. Morgan Freeman intimates some of the latent nastiness a former bounty-hunter should entail, but it’s Gene Hackman who truly transcends his compositional constraints. His turn in large-sections that bare little relation to the plot carries them simply as cinema in a way the “important” parts are not — at once warm, frightening, compelling. The Academy, as far as he is concerned, did get one thing right.