(Originally posted on 3/7/04)
Richard Tuggle helmed 1984’s Tightrope, but the film’s modest construction seems to confirm rumors that star Clint Eastwood had a hand in directing this psychological thriller. The jazzy score, the even-handed mixture of establishing shots and close-ups, and the film’s opening shot over the Louisiana coast (which seems to foreshadow a similar image from last year’s Mystic River) all point to Eastwood having spent some time behind the camera. Yet regardless of who did what, the film is a surprisingly tightly wound serial killer mystery in which recently divorced cop and single father of two Wes Block (Eastwood) hunts a butcher who likes to handcuff and strangle prostitutes. Thing is, Block intimately knows the victims -- despite his sunny home life, the detective has been sneaking out of his cozy two-story house to frequent the French Quarter’s ladies of the night. To highlight his dual nature, Block is regularly shot with his face partially cloaked in darkness or seamy red light, and its not long before he’s worrying that he’s just like the killer. The cop’s fondness for prostitutes is a subconscious longing (created by his wife’s desertion) to control women, and the other women in his life -- his motherly daughters and the confrontational rape/self-defense counselor Beryl Thibodeaux (Geneviève Bujold) -- represent his competing desire for strong, independent females. The story’s police procedural elements could put a speed freak to sleep, and the killer’s motivation is so stale I could smell its stench from my couch, but that’s not to say Tightrope isn’t worth your time. Eastwood is fascinatingly inscrutable as the sex-obsessed Block, and the film is oozing with lasciviousness -- the neon lights, the mud-wrestling strippers, the younger daughter’s interest in learning the definition of “hard on” -- that effectively mires us in tawdry New Orleans grime. I’m not sure why Clint would include his real-life daughter Alison in such a sordid, sexually explicit enterprise, but hopefully she learned this valuable lesson from her dad’s character: Investigating a murder, no matter how horrific, is always preferable to attending a Saints home game.