I think I figured out what makes Bruce Surtees’s 1980s photography so particular–he’s accounting for grain in film stock where there’s no significant grain (as opposed to, say, his films of the 1970s). Tightrobe has a muted cleanliness to it, which really doesn’t fit the story–cop who frequents prostitutes versus serial killer of same prostitutes. It lacks a visual personality. The New Orleans locations do a lot of the work for the film, because the locations aren’t the star, just the locations, which is always how New Orleans works better. It’s too easy to have it do all the work. Richard Tuggle, the writer and director, does an adequate job of directing Tightrope–he does good chase scenes–but his script spends an hour establishing the situation, then spends fifty minutes putting first Eastwood’s kids, then his girlfriend, in danger. There’s some nice stuff in the script, but it’s really not the script’s fault, rather Alison Eastwood playing Eastwood’s kid, which I’ll get to in a second. First, I need to acknowledge Tuggle as an “Eastwood director.” Paul Newman had a couple people he worked with a lot (Martin Ritt and Stuart Rosenberg) and Eastwood similarly used to have his own stable. Tuggle only did the one film, but he’s really indistinguishable from the other two (James Fargo and Buddy Van Horn) Eastwood worked with during the late 1970s to late 1980s period. He does a fine job, but there’s nothing to it.
On to the Eastwoods. The effect of having Alison Eastwood play the daughter is staggering. She’s really good, but being aware of it, I watched Clint Eastwood and his kid, not the character and his kid. I never felt like I was watching them star in a movie, but the general lack of characterization–except the relatively tame kinkiness–just made it another Eastwood vehicle. It’s a good and effective vehicle, but it lacks. It reminds me of a less competent, but more engaging Blood Work. Dirty Harry with kids, or something. Seeing Eastwood with kids is nice though, those scenes are the best in Tightrope, but the scenes of Eastwood in the Red Light district are so tamed down for mainstream consumption, that aspect of the film misfires. The kid stuff, though, it’s so good it makes up for Genevieve Bujold’s abject ineffectiveness.
My only other comment on Tightrope is in regards to Dan Hedaya as Eastwood’s partner. You can’t have Hedaya in a movie and not use him. Tightrope doesn’t use him.
Written and directed by Richard Tuggle; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; produced by Clint Eastwood and Fritz Manes; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Clint Eastwood (Wes Block), Genevieve Bujold (Beryl Thibodeaux), Dan Hedaya (Detective Molinari), Alison Eastwood (Amanda Block), Jennifer Beck (Penny Block) and Marco St. John (Leander Rolfe).