By Kroll, Jack
Newsweek , Vol. 125, No. 23
GAGGED ON THE BOOK, LIKED THE movie. That will be the experience of many who see Clint Eastwood's The Bridges of Madison County. Director-star Eastwood and his collaborators have done a fascinating cleanup job on Robert James Waller's stupefyingly successful best seller. The novella about a four-day romance between a fortyish Iowa farm wife and a fiftyish photographer hit the dream buttons of baby boomers just when their dreams were running down. The book was a hermaphroditic fantasy; if you were a man, you could be Robert Kincaid, a guy who could induce orgasm in a redwood tree. If you were a woman, you could be Francesea Johnson, whose 96 hours with RK is the only brush with ecstasy in her life.
The book was an amazing farrago of sub-Hemingway macho and New Age moon dust. What Eastwood, costar Meryl Streep and screenwriter Richard Lagravenese have done is to bring a semblance of emotional reality to the story. As a result the movie "Bridges" has much more poignancy than the book. From their first meeting, when Kincaid jolts up to her farmhouse in his pickup, asking directions to the famous Iowa covered bridges he's shooting for National Geographic magazine, the juice flows between Eastwood and Streep. Francesca's a quietly resigned woman who came from her native Italy to be the wife of Richard, a decent but unexciting man (Jim Haynie). Robert's divorced, a loner who buries his emotional dissatisfaction in his solid photographic craftsmanship.
In the book Waller makes him a poet of the camera who "was after art for art's sake." But in the movie Robert modestly tells Francesca: "I'm no artist." Waller's Robert said stuff like "I am the highway and a peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea." Most of that gas has been siphoned out of the movie, except for an occasional emission when Eastwood is forced to say lines like "I embrace the mystery." But the erotic tension that develops between Eastwood and Streep is a believable force that rises out of myriad beautifully observed details. …