One of the bestselling novels in history, Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel, The Bridges of Madison County, has sold over 50 million copies. Most critics hated it, but the public ate it up. I remember seeing several women reading the book in the line at the grocery store; The Bridges of Madison County was everywhere! Given its popularity, a movie was inevitable. Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood with Meryl Streep, the film, released in 1995, earned a fairly impressive $70 million at the box office, given that it’s essentially a story about two middle aged people discussing life and falling in love.
Like the book, the film tells a rather simple story. In 1965, Italian immigrant Francesca Johnson (Streep) has settled into a quiet life in Iowa with her husband and two children. It’s not a bad life, but there’s something about the way she carries herself that tells you she had hoped for more. With her family away for four days to show her daughter’s prized steer at the state fair, she’s home alone when lean, weathered, straight-talking, globe-trotting, National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Eastwood) shows up, asking for directions.
In his fifties, Kincaid wears tight jeans, suspenders, and wears his hair over his collar. Robert Kincaid is a main comfortable in his body, and confident in himself. It’s clear from Robert and Francesca’s first meeting that love isn’t far behind. In the area to photograph the local covered bridges, Robert has gotten lost. While Francesca agrees to show him the way to the bridge, in reality, the stirrings of passion have begun. Over the next four days, the two will share conversations, meals, and give in to the love they feel for each other.
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) infuses the characters with personality in a way that Robert James Waller did not. Francesca has a dry wit; she’s quick, laughs at her own quips. Robert—instead of seeming a tad bit weird—comes across as highly likable.
Eastwood avoids allowing the story to become too sugary. He’s always had a good eye for people’s natural behavior, and is largely content to point his camera at the characters and let them tell the tale. He avoids montages and dream sequences. Instead, Francesca’s two children, Michael (Victor Slezak) and Carolyn (Annie Corley), are reading their mother’s extensive journals after her death. There, they learn of the affair, and the film flashes back to those four days, thirty years earlier.
The final scenes in The Bridges of Madison County are genuinely heartbreaking. Streep’s acting is first rate, as it so often is, and Eastwood’s directing is impressive. While I, along with many others, initially thought he was too old to play Robert Kincaid at the time, Clint’s deep wrinkles and weather beaten appearance adds an extra poignancy to the film.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Warner’s 1080p transfer does a pretty good job of bringing the vibrant, rural setting to life. Lots of natural light brings depth to the overall look of things. The film grain may be a bit overdone for some, but skin tones appear natural throughout and the level of detail is good.
Given that this is a dialogue heavy film, the English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack isn’t asked to do much. Dialogue is easily discernible from beginning to end, and the film’s musical score sounds warm and even.
English, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras have been ported over from a previous Deluxe Edition DVD:
- Audio Commentary with Editor Joel Cox and Director of Photography Jack N. Green: Both have worked with Eastwood on several occasions and understand how he likes to work. The two cover all aspects of the production, from sets, music, working with Meryl Streep, and more. Well worth a listen.
- An Old-Fashioned Love Story: Making The Bridges of Madison County (SD, 29:36) Eastwood, Streep, LaGravenese, producer Kathleen Kennedy and a few others, share their thoughts on the film.
- Music Video: “Doe Eyes” (SD, 4:05) An instrumental version of the film’s main theme accompanying a compilation of clips.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:23) Really a teaser.