Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dirty Harry takes on celebrity worship

The Dead Pool (1988)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, and Liam Neeson
Director: Buddy Van Long
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When "Dirty" Harry Callahan (Eastwood)--San Francisco's most rebellious and anti-social homicide detective--is pointman in sending a major crime boss to prison, he finds himself receiving favorable media attention for once... and he hates every minute of it. He hates even more that the police commissioner wants him to spend time doing "press availabilities"... but when he is targeted first by vengeful mobsters and then by a maniac bent on claiming victory in a sick betting game called "The Dead Pool", Harry and his famous Magnum revolver are back in familiar territory, even defending a lady reporter (Clarkson) from harm.

"The Dead Pool" has all the elements that has made the Dirty Harry character so popular, particularly the way he is a conduit for the viewers disgust with police departments that are more concerned with PR than stopping crime, out-of-control and irresponsible journalists; and the way he is the sort of cop that really can only exist in urban fairy tales like the Dirty Harry movies. (Dirty Harry NEVER harms an innocent--in fact, he goes far and above the call of duty in their defense--but if anyone who even was close to the sort of nature that Harry has would have been tossed off the force long ago.)

Although "The Dead Pool" has all the great elements of a Dirty Harry story, it is weakened by several over-the-top assassination attempts on Harry by the gangsters and a main villain that's as crazy as the Scorpio Killer but whose final encounter with Harry sort of peeters out and is weakened by a gesture that is even extreme even for Harry (and a bit out of character, it seems to me the filmmakers were interested more in a final pun than a good ending to the film).

Those bad parts, however, give rise to some of the films better moments, so they can be excused. First, the way Harry gets the mob hit men off his back is the sort of approach that is at the heart of why the character was so popular. Second, a crazy assassination scheme of the film's main bad guy gives rise to one of the funkiest car chases ever put on film.

"The Dead Pool" features a great performance by Clint Eastwood as one of his signature characters. While it's not the best of the Dirty Harry films, it's still very worthwhile viewing. (One sad little part of the movie is the commentary on the out-of-control celebrity-worshipping media culture of the U.S... it's sad over 20 years later that media culture is more out of control than ever.

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