Dirty Harry

January 8, 2010
I believe the theatrical trailer puts it best - this is a movie about a couple of killers. No heroes or villains, just a couple of men who find violence to be the only means to an end. The one with the badge is Inspector Harry Callahan, arguably the original "loose cannon cop" character which set forth the popcorn genre of "cop flicks" ala Supercop or Bad Boys. Callahan, as stated, isn't one to follow procedure, unspoken rules of courtesy, or policy. In fact, old "Dirty" Harry even mentions what his policy is in the film - but I won't spoil it for you. The other killer is unnamed, but goes by the alias of "Scorpio". He kills simply because he enjoys it. No more and no less. Unlike the Dirty Harry sequels to soon follow, I think this is the only one that contains an adversary that can rival Harry. In the sequels, Harry usually faces a gang or some other group of individuals, and he ends up just fine despite the odds being against him. Yet in this, Scorpio seems that he's just as tactical and vicious as Harry is, making the conflict seem far more pronounced than in the succeeding films.

The structure of the film starts off pretty slow, even dragging at points. Though this is fixed by around 1/3 of the way in, it's still quite a major fault I saw in the film. Like I said, the film picks up a nice pace afterward and continues to do so until the film's ending. Either way, the narrative of the film is very engrossing and leaves the viewer to decide on how they feel about Dirty Harry. Are he and his desperate measures in the right? Is there a point, when push comes to shove, that violent and cruel decisions have to be made in order to keep criminals off the street? The question of "how far is too far?" is one that all of the Dirty Harry films share, each weighing the choices by sometimes having very liberal antagonists and sometimes very conservative antagonists.

Character and dialogue are done well, with next to no "bad" or "Mary Sue" characters. Everything feels just right, and the dialogue supports this with its gritty nature. There's nothing in the city that feels moral, with the entire environment supporting the self and sin. Even the cinematic "Do I feel lucky?" speech Harry gives is quite gritty, and goes back to the question of morals in the film. Is a cop allowed to say something like that? Can he/she be permitted to break into homes, torture suspects, and threaten anyone if the need arises?

The film also supports an interesting, albeit flimsy, neo-noir style to it. There are a few scenes where this noir can plainly be seen, such as Callahan at the Golden Gate bridge or Scorpio's first kill. The shadows and camera are used just right to portray this gritty city. As I said though, this style is often hampered by dragging shots. Though the film's first sequel, Magnum Force, would fix this, the dragging shots here really pull you out of the film sometimes. There are so many scenes of just two people staring at Callahan that could have been cut, as they provided nothing emotionally or story-wise. Granted, there are a few scenes where it did work (final showdown between Harry and Scorpio) but these instances are so few and far between. I can't help but wonder if the director was going for a Leone style, as if paying tribute to the man who got Eastwood into the movie-business.

Dirty Harry is, no doubt, the best of the franchise. An engrossing narrative, Clint Eastwood at his best, and a good script are all great attractions toward the film. Granted, it's occasionally flawed in its pacing and visuals, but this film still stands up as one of Eastwood's most memorable characters and performances.

8.25/10 - Great

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