Tuesday, July 13, 2010

REVIEW: Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry
Director: Don Siegel
Year 1971

Dirty Harry is probably one of the most entertaining films that I've seen in a long time. I feel ashamed that I have only just now seen this 70's gem and its equally satisfying sequels. These films are chuck full off bad ass moments provided by the cool as shit antics of San Francisco cop Harry Callahan, otherwise known as Dirty Harry. Oh and he is a dirty son of a bitch. Harry's motto seems to be to obtain his suspect by any means necessary, even if he has to bend the law a bit in his relentless effort to bring the bad guy down. Bring them down he does and in the most brutal fashion. Harry does everything in his power to try to clean up the streets of San Francisco, all the while leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. Harry you're a maniac, but I love you for it.

I spy with my little eye, a woman swimming in a pool.

In the particular case of this film, Dirty Harry, we are introduced to a completely despicable man who delights in sniping random people from afar, be it men, women, or children. As the film opens we are shown a man high atop a skyscraper, focusing in on a women as she swims on the roof of a building far below. The stillness of this scene is quite breathtaking and the visuals of being that high up, present a great sense of vertigo that compliments well with the nauseating idea of a cowardly person taking life from an unseen distance.

The effects of Harry on the city of San Francisco.

The main pull of the Dirty Harry films, for me at least, is to see what Police Inspector Harry Callahan will do next as he tries to solve the many crimes that thrive within the city limits. His approach to solving the case is so unorthodox compared to the rest of the police force, that over the years Harry has earned quite a reputation among the precinct. Not only has this garnered respect from his fellow officers, but it's also provided Harry with some frightening opposition in the form of the seedy underbelly of San Francisco's finest scum and also in the eyes of his supervisors who have to deal with the backlash and endless reports over Harry's latest lead filled escapade. 

Harry asks the audience if they feel lucky. Well do ya?

The dynamics of the love and hate relationship between Harry and his higher ranking counterparts are a kind of running gag that presents itself throughout the series, as Harry must fight with both the criminals of the city and the ever changing rules of conduct and politic figureheads of the time as they enforce their politically correct beliefs on his police work. As the films progress in the series, this plot point gets more and more prevalent as indeed times do change and the idea of an out of control cop seems more of a throwback to more uncivilized times.

Harry hates back seat drivers.
Especially when they're sitting next to him.

The seemingly simple story of a cop who does anything in his power to bring criminals to justice, is brought into a more complex realm by the capable acting chops of the legendary Clint Eastwood. He brings such a restrained approach in his acting, yet is able to convey such a large range of emotions and create an array of exhilarating action scenes, that he indeed is what makes Dirty Harry that much more of an accomplished film. He plays Dirty Harry with a gritty realism that never compromises the story's integrity or washes over the audience with flashy presentation that lacks any kind of substance. Every action that Eastwood makes seems fused within the character of Harry Callahan, until you can't tell the difference between the two. That is what true acting is able to accomplish and Eastwood takes everyone to school in this aspect.

Dirty Harry is a dirty pervert.

The world of Dirty Harry is a dangerous one, filled with dark alleys, evil men, and zero remorse, but cinematographer Bruce Surtees has done a wonderful job in making the world look beautiful in that gritty and filth covered way. The lighting of the stake out scene is one in particular that really packs a punch in the visual department, while also setting the mood for what is to come. In this scene, Harry and his partner are standing watch atop a building, waiting for the killer to appear from across the street. They are given a moment to reflect on things as they lay in wait. Harry is even given an interesting little segment, where he spies in on a small orgy in one of the apartments and mentally compares how different his life is to their care free existence. It's a nice intimate touch accompanied by the brooding lighting scheme that Surtees has set up.

Mr. Dirty as he aims for the kill.

This entire brilliant scene is vibrantly lit by a large rotating overhead sign that reads Jesus Saves. As the neon sign rotates, our characters are caked in harsh reds and then subtle blues, continuing this colorful trend until the killer finally reveals himself. The scene just feels heavy with atmosphere and it brings you right to the moment at hand, as if you're waiting there with the two inspectors. It's a beautifully surreal scene that feels perfectly at home within the world of Dirty Harry.

Can you believe it folks! He's down on the 10 yard line!

The violence is also beautifully surreal in its reddish abundance as Harry pulls the trigger and lets the bullets fly. Bad guys fall in great numbers and in cleverly diverse ways while Harry rids the city of some unwanted vermin. This is 70's cinema violence in a nut shell, inspiring future films like 1974's Death Wish with Charles Bronson and basically any action crime thriller to come out that had a rogue cop out for justice. The violence was influential because it was able to tread that fine balance of keeping it visceral, yet obtaining the relevance for its existence. No death is for the sake of showing a kill on the screen. Even though the violence is plentiful and sometimes surprisingly sprung from out of nowhere, nothing happens without a reason and nothing delves so far that it starts to represent an italian splatterfest. Dirty Harry has the violence, but it has a restrained enough grip that it keeps it well within the realm of good taste.

A pretty nice shot of Harry overlooking the city.

Now, Harry isn't alone in his pursuit of finding the rooftop sniper killer. He is given a partner named Chico Gonzalez, in the form of Reni Santoni. You might remember Reni from one of the more memorable Seinfeld characters, Poppie, where he accidently pees on Jerry's couch. Santoni does a great job in somewhat reigning in Harry's explosive personality and grounding him on his actions and what they mean to everyone surrounded by him. Harry admits that everyone who has ever been his partner have reached a bloody end and after saying that, we get a clear view at what Inspector Gonzalez is up against. Later on in the film we get a moment where Gonzalez makes an important choice that highly impacts the severity that Harry is up against and helps make the world that much more real.

You did what to my grandma?

Without the character of Chico Gonzalez, the film might have felt like a contrived action movie where consequences to Harry's actions never seem to drive home or result in any kind of negative effects to the people around him. Santoni does a great job with his character, and though he serves as a pivotal role in bringing this film into a more realized realm, he still is able to infuse his performance with a pinch of charm while engaging in some entertaining banter with Eastwood's Harry.

Mister, I just crapped my pants!

There's also a large dose of comedy thrown into this film in the form of Harry's hilariously sarcastic wit. This guy has got some of the best quotes in the history of sarcastic film that the world has ever seen. Just one of many memorable moments happens when Harry is trying to explain to the mayor why he had to shoot the suspect. The mayor asks him why and Harry responds with, "Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with the intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy." The mayor asks him how he established that the man intended to rape the victim. Harry responds, "When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher's knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross." Now that's just bad ass and he says this to the Mayor of the city. There are so many moments like this that come out of nowhere in this film and each one of them are natural and feel inherent with what Harry's character would say. Nothing feels out of place or stuck in for comedic value and that's a credit to the writers efforts and Eastwood's handling of Harry.

Hanging around on top of bridges again. That Harry.

There is also some brilliant musical compositions and stylistic choices for the music in this film. Naturally you have your high octane pieces for the action scenes, but what struck me off guard was the horror elements that kept creeping up in the soundtrack. I don't know if that was what composer Lalo Schifrin had in mind, but the end result is perfect and fits the gritty setting of this picture with fantastic results. Lalo has a diverse portfolio of films that he has composed for over the years, delving into all sorts of genres and it's no surprise to see because the music that he has created for Dirty Harry is quite a motley assortment, yet so so effective. His first attempt with the Dirty Harry soundtrack went so well that he went on to score the entire series, adding his special flare for creating a marvelous soundscape.

That's one pissed off Eastwood!

Dirty Harry is a classic that, for this reviewer, has been able to stand the test of time even though it is so rooted in the era that it was created in. The concept of political correctness and the restraints that Harry has to overcome in able to make his arrest is compelling and interesting to watch no matter what year it is. The amazing action set pieces and the remarkable smart ass lines that spout from the mouth of Clint Eastwood are just great in their sarcastic splendor and blunt delivery, that you can't help but grin along with the film. I'm so glad that I finally sat down to visit this great series and got to view a character as enigmatic as Harry Callahan, the dirtiest son of a bitch in cinema history. This film is highly recommended for Clint Eastwood fans and for anyone who craves 70's cinema and the hard nosed content that comes out of it.

5 out of 5 stars      A Clint Eastwood Kick Ass Classic!

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