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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon November 27, 2000
This 1995 film, BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, stars Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, and was also produced and directed by the former. If you're used to seeing Clint in his belligerent Dirty Harry or Man With No Name persona, then you're likely to be enormously surprised by his triple triumph in this sensitive film in which nary a shot is fired or punch thrown.

The Streep character, Francesca Johnson, was an Italian war bride brought back to Iowa in 1945 by the soldier whose heart she captured. Twenty years later, she lives on a farm with her middle-aged husband and teenage son and daughter. Long since before, she's had to give up her career as a teacher because her spouse, an otherwise gentle and considerate man, doesn't approve of a working wife. She lives, without dreams or passion, a life of quiet desperation. Then along comes the Eastwood character, Robert Kincaid, during a period when Francesca is home alone, the rest of the family off to the State Fair in neighboring Illinois. Kincaid is a photographer for National Geographic, his current assignment to photograph the local covered BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. The divorced Kincaid is the quintessential wanderer, at home wherever in the world he finds himself at the moment, taking his experiences and relationships as they come.

During the four days of her family's absence, Francesca falls deeply in love with Robert, and he with her. In him, she rediscovers her dreams of the wider world long denied her in rural Iowa. In her, he discovers the personal and emotional commitment that he professes not to need. When Francesca must choose between Robert and her family, Duty, Responsibility and Loyalty battle with the Heart for the outcome. The scene towards the end of the film in her husband's pick-up truck, wherein Francesca displays wrenching mental turmoil and emotional anguish over a decision that she must make immediately, is, by itself, an Oscar caliber performance by Streep.

Is Francesca's decision a tragedy or moral victory? At the moment of her choice, how much of what she was and could have been was irretrievably lost? Perhaps hindsight and reason might provide the answer. But, the heart will never really know, will it? And the mind will play "what if" games until time and expectations run out.
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on August 13, 2000
This movie is one of my all-time favorite romances. It begins with adult siblings looking through their deceased Mother's things where they discover a secret. They "find their way" to a letter from their Mother (Francesca played by Meryl Streep) which is the content of this movie (along with 3 journals.) Francesca's words in the letter to her children open the story. "I know it sounds awful but I couldn't wait for you all to leave. You were going to be gone until Friday. Four days--just four days." This is where the story begins, in the past.
"THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY" is about these incredible life-changing four days of Francesca and Robert. The Father and children had left to enter a steer into a fair and Francesca stayed home. Not long after Francesca's family leaves, a photographer who is lost (Robert Kincaid played by Clint Eastwood) drives up to ask for directions to a covered bridge. She tries to tell him but they both get confused because the roads aren't marked. Of course if they would have been, this love story would have never have happened. The way their affair begins so innocently is part of what makes the story so compelling for me. Streep and Eastwood together are amazing; and their growing friendship and deep love that follows is magical. Both of their acting is flawless in my eyes as well as the music, script and cinematography. Eastwood is an impressive producer as well as director.
It is such a wonderful story I could paraphrase the whole thing; but I won't. Just enjoy each moment of their 4 days together which go on forever in their hearts. I think the moral of "THE BRIDGES OF MADSION COUNTY" is to be grateful for every day of our lives. Life is a long-winding road full of joy and sorrow. We must survive the sorrow and truly cherish the joy while at the same time remembering that our decisions affect not only us but our loved ones as well. The ending is magnificient.
As my wise Father told me once: "Live your life so that you'll have no regrets and try to accomplish that which will be best for everyone."
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on January 20, 2005
To those reviews centering on the "immorality" of not only the protagonists in this film, but the author of the novel, and the "Hollywood Establishment", I say this - you're missing the entire point. If "romance", "infidelity", and "lost love" are central themes of this film, then I suggest adding "human fallibility" to the list. Francesca and Robert ARE good people, who like all of us, are fallible. If they were not, then Francesca's decision wouldn't have been so difficult, and heart wrenching. Indeed, if she were truly selfish, and "immoral", she would have left her family immediately, and without hesitation.

Much of human behavior (and morality too) cannot be realistically assessed in black and white terms. Francesca and Robert are neither completely "bad", nor "good". They are decent individuals who happened to meet too late in life, in the wrong place, and thus, must suffer the consequences of these tragic, unfortunate circumstances. It's not Francesca and Robert vs. her family.

The emotional complexity of the storyline, the surprisingly good match up between Eastwood and Streep, and not to be overlooked - a fantastic soundtrack - make for a film I'd definitely recommend.
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on March 1, 2009
Last night my wife and I watched this movie in "HI-DEFINITION" for the first time. Such glorious cinematography -- the countryside around the bridges of Madison county. "Beautiful music," said my wife. "I think Clint wrote it," I said.

Two nights earlier we had watched Clint Eastwood parry gracefully (that "ah shucks" style of his) with David Letterman, who asked him his age.

"I'm 78," said Clint.

"Now, I look 78!" said Letterman, only half-jokingly, "YOU look about 58!" The simple truth: Clint looks (to our eyes) as young as he did playing "Robert Kincaid, photographer" to Meryl Streep's "Francesca Johnson" Iowa farm wife, in this wonderful film, now 14 years old (1995).

So I came here in search of a 2-Disc "Special Edition" and -- lo and behold!

For those of us who love this movie, it seems incredible that "Bridges" didn't win a single award (though Meryl Streep was nominated for the "Best Actress" Oscar). This understated gem, masterfully directed by Clint Eastwood, remains my favorite of his films . . . actually affording Clint the vehicle for his very best acting; elicited, perhaps, by rising to the occasion -- having to 'act upwards' in the presence of the greatest actor/actress -- and deservedly the "most-nominated." (Did they say Meryl now had "15 nominations" when singing her praises at the Oscars, a week ago?)

-----

The subtleties of Meryl's reading of an Italian-born mid-westerner "Francesca Johnson" grow ever-more-poignant, as the movie nears its end. We share her `heart-torn-in-two' agony at that moment, in the pouring rain, when her lover's battered, old green (59 GMC) half-ton is stopped ahead of them, at the light, directly in front of their red, (58 Chev) pickup truck.

As if sending one final signal to the "love that comes but once" to their lives -- one last, unspoken urging to "run away with me NOW!" . . . we share Francesca's view as Robert reaches into the glove compartment, then drapes that silver crucifix & chain on his rear view mirror.

Francesca inches her hand to the door handle, preparing to bolt and join her `one true love' . . . fatally delaying her move to the last possible moment. Her husband, noting the license plate on the truck ahead of him says, "That fella's far from home - Washington State! Must be that photographer everyone's been talking about."

Francesca's hand actually moves the door handle slightly. Her husband tentatively honks his horn because the light is green and asks, quietly, `Why is he not moving?' Soon the truck ahead turns left, the driver's rain-soaked hair evident through his still rolled-down, window.

They drive forward, Francesca looking back with such longing -- one last glimpse of Robert's truck as it disappears into the rain; then . . . the flood of tears.

"What's wrong?" asks her husband, as if he's never seen her cry like this - his dark eyes wary, with alarm.

"I need a minute," is all she can muster up, covering her face with her hands, dissolving in tears.

-----

In the final scenes - and the very last one in which we get to see the gentle aging face of Francesca -- she gently, lovingly removes the contents of a box that has just been delivered to her farmhouse --- from the lawyer for Kincaid's estate.

She's inherited his early model Nikon camera, which she recognizes, and quickly sets aside, along with the silver crucifix and chain, before picking up a small red picture book with a dying sunset on its cover; it is the fruit of their few, joyful days together, and titled appropriately "Four Days by Robert Kincaid."

Francesca's lovely old hands open the book to the first printed page, inscribed to her "FOR F" -- below it, an introductory snippet of poetry, "by Byron" Inserted at that page, is a many-times-folded and yellowing note - the one she hand-wrote, after feeding him a home-cooked meal:

"If you'd like supper again
`When white moths are on the wing'
Come by tonight after you're finished.
Anytime is fine."

Beneath the printed page's inscription, "FOR F," is the poem by Byron. (I always mean to jot it down; this time I did!)

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods
There is a rapture on the lonely shore
There is society where none intrude
By the deep sea, and music is to roar . . .
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I have been before
To mingle with the universe and feel . . .
What I can n'ere express
Yet cannot all conceal."

NOTE for those who care about such things: the achingly-beautiful `love theme' heard throughout this movie (the orchestrations are so evocative) surges up finally, as Francesca appreciates for the first time the book about their Four Days. (Bet "there wasn't a dry eye" at this movie's premiere showing!)

That memorable theme music vividly reminds us of Clint Eastwood's strengths as a musician: He co-wrote this one, calling it "Doe Eyes" -- "Love Theme from The Bridges of Madison County." (His co-composer was Lennie Niehaus.)

Such subtleties didn't come up during Clint's interview with David Letterman. And, perhaps at this late juncture, most of us don't care to watch the credits to their end to learn such things.

Clint Eastwood would be the first to admit, as an actor he is not in Meryl Streep's league (who is?) But in their last scene together, at the supper table, the evening before her husband and son & daughter return with a blue ribbon from the `state fair,' Clint's character `delivers' in his powerless attempt to pursuade "Francesca" to run away with him.

Their characters so needy for each other - the ache is palpable! Each time I watch that moment in this understated gem of a film -- the best `twin-soliloquy' of its kind, I say - our hearts ache for two wonderful, decent human beings who must tear themselves apart. Strangers only days earlier, now they have no real choice but to let go, turn away and 'no looking back.' Yes, the finest film never to have won an award!

Mark Blackburn
Winnipeg Manitoba Canada
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Pretty much everyone on the planet knew years before "The Bridges of Madison County" that Meryl Streep could do any accent under the sun and put on an acting clinic. However, the acting revelation in this film is Clint Eastwood, although ironically I have always had the feeling that he is not really acting. I mean, from the Man With No Name to Dirty Harry to William Munny the man has played some of the most hard-bitten characters around. I try to remember the last romantic lead Eastwood played off the top of my head and all that comes to mind is "Paint Your Wagon." Yet as photographer Robert Kincaid he is warm, charming, engaging, in other words, pretty much everything I would like to think the real Clint Eastwood is like in the real world. No wonder Francesca falls for him.
The story takes place in the summer of 1965, when Francesca's husband and kids are off to the Iowa State Fair. Francesca, an Italian war bride who sometimes misses the old country, is planning on a few days of peace and quite when Robert Kincaid shows up in a pick up truck asking for directions to one of those covered bridges that are all over the place in Madison County. It turns out he is on assignment from the National Geographic magazine to photograph them and when Francesca agrees to help it is the quiet beginning to a four-day romance of epic proportions. There is a framing device for the tale, which takes place after Francesca has died, in which Francesca's children find her journal and read for the first time of the secret affair their mother enjoyed, but for the most part this just gets in the way. Certainly the knowledge of how this affair will end impacts our level of emotional involvement with the two lovers.
Admittedly, this is one of the great hit or miss romance films of our generation. It will either click for you or it will not. But I think you have to check it out at least once just to catch a glimpse of the "real" Eastwood. Note: If you get a change, check out the audio-tape version of the novel, which is narrated by author Robert James Waller with the dialogue for the two leads done by Ben Kinsley and Isabelli Rossalini. You have to admit, it sounds intriguing, right?
Most Romantic Lines: (1) "This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime." (2) "I don't want to need you, because I can't have you."
Tear-Jerk Scenes: (1) Two pick-up trucks stopped at a red light at the one interesection in town.
If you like "The Bridges of Madison County," then check out these other films on AFI's list: #1 "Casablanca." Why? Because the big time movie tough guy does not get the girl in that film either.
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on April 16, 2009
This film, a tender masterpiece, is an anomaly in Hollywood. It's a mature, intelligent, thoughtful, real romantic film, and in the end, sad and heartbreaking, but not despairing. Some have expressed surprise that Eastwood directed this film so well, but I'm not. Eastwood is a great film artist, one of the greatest working today, and he shows his sensitivity and brilliance in this film. This film reminds me of how surprised people were that David Lynch directed The Straight Story (a wonderful film in itself and one of the best of 1999). It's the same principle. Two artists, Lynch and Eastwood, are simply thwarting expectations and surprising their fans with a sincere, heartfelt movie. They do it all the time.

This film is also very mature and intelligent. It is not a chick flick where everything is wrapped up in dumb dialogue, dumb characters, and foolish situations. It is an honest film of two middle aged people who bond almost immediately and really fall in love. Eastwood and Streep (the Academy didn't nominate either of them) give wonderful performances, especially Streep. She's also drop dead gorgeous as well. The film unfolds at a beautiful, leisurely pace (like most Eastwood films).

The film also doesn't make any judgements on the lead characters. Streep's character is married, but she's very unhappy and bored, like many people who have been in a long term marriage. Eastwood's character is not a playboy, but someone who really reveals himself to Streep, something that's brave to do. There's also a powerful scene in a diner where another woman, who was caught having an affair and the small town knows about it, walks into a diner and everyone starts looking down on her. Except Eastwood's character, who offers her a seat next to his. There is not one ounce of moralising here. Clint shows people who are simply human, and it's beautiful.

The Bridges of Madison County is a story for adults, and considering it was made in 1995 (when idiotic teen comedies were polluting the multiplexes), it's even more of a treasure (I wished I had seen it then, the 90's was a rather poor decade overall for films, especially from Hollywood). Hollywood should do more adult romances, and not silly, vapid chick flicks. Chick flicks do more damage to romantics than realistic romance. I prefer my romances to be more grounded in reality and intelligence because there's just as much beauty there, and it's much more fullfilling than any vapid chick flick can offer. This is one of Eastwood's best, most unique films.
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on October 14, 2005
I just watched this movie again for probably the 50th time. I must say I rarely enjoy watching love stories, but this movie is about so much more. Forget all the reviews from those of you that only see the immoral side of this movie because of the extra-marital affair. If the truth be known, the same ones that criticize have probably longed all of their lives for the type of love and passion that this movie unfolds. When I first saw this movie with a friend of mine over 10 years ago, it touched me so deeply i wanted to go back and watch it alone, which I did. Since then I get so emotional, I regret ever turning it on. This movie is one of the most beautiful love stories ever written. It is deep on a level that most people can surely relate to, but many would never open their minds and acknowledge their true passionate side to admit it. There is nothing dirty or immoral about this movie. So what, the affair maybe was wrong, but it was REAL, and it was BEAUTIFUL! This movie is for all of us that have a very strong passionate side to us, and never get to truly release it and be the real woman many of us long to be with that special man who recognizes it and knows how to give it back and make us feel loved in a way that no other man could ever make us feel.
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on October 20, 1999
Yes, it is a love story. A wonderfully moving and touching and heart wrenching love story. But also, and very importantly, it is the story of how women, mothers, give themselves up for their families. Many women feel the way francesca felt. They bury their dreams and no one ever knows who they really were. As a mother myself, although I am married to my "robert kincaid", (my true love) I could relate to that feeling of having stopped so your children can move on. We must not do this to ourselves or to our families. This movie made me realize that I, as a person, deserve to have my own and separate existence so my children do not find journals after my death and only then discover who their mother really was. EXCELLENT MOVIE! and now I must read the book.
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on June 27, 2002
I am sure that every woman, and more men than would like to admit...can relate to this movie! If you can get past Clint and his sloppy, smacking smooches...this movie can tear at the heartstrings like no other I have ever seen!
The scene with Francesca's hand on that truck door handle! I have to give old Clint a hell of a lot of credit for that scene. It was simple yet ever so powerful...and so reminiscent of the human condition as whole, if you ask me.
When did we all stop letting out intuition guide us? When did we all decide that the "ultimate sacrifice" is letting yourself live out your days in mediocrity of the mind, body and soul?
To live out your life unsatisfied is a crime of nature. I would have told a different story...Francesca...take it from me, sister...GO FOR IT!!!
And just by the way...D. Grant Haynes from Middle America...should I happen upon you the way Robert did Francesca...would you promise to run away with me??? I loved your review. More men should think the way that you do.
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on March 30, 2002
I resisted seeing this movie. I had a hard time seeing the success of "Bridges of Madison County", with Eastwood as a leading "romantic" man. After watching this film, also directed by Eastwood, I have changed my tune. I have concluded that Eastwood even with his tough guy image can pull off just about anything.
Excelent film! Bridges of Madison County is a movie that is told almost entirely in flashback form. Through letters and jornals left by a mother, to her childern. Upon the mother's death.
The Jornals tell of a brief romance between an Italian imagrant farm-wife, Francesca Johnson, and a photographer for a national magazine, Robert Kinkade. Played brilantly by Streep and Eastwood.
Bridges of Madison County, is a middle age romance; love story. Set agninst backdrops in Iowa.
A beautiful film.
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