This film is still important to examine, as it shows how what was cutting edge can be diluted by time.
You see, Harry Callahan was a product of his time – the early 1970s, in which violence was still seen as shocking and his methods raised a few eyebrows. That was part of the point. When the last “Dirty Harry” film was released in the late 1980s, I doubt anyone really noticed. Harry’s tactics had been commonplace, and subsequent action films make the original look like a paper cut.
So what does the franchise do to comment on the changing times?
The film, once again, takes place in San Francisco. A famous rock star is murdered, and Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) discovers that B-movie director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson) has created a game with his colleagues. This game, known as the Dead Pool, involves guessing which celebrity will die before any others. Apparently, someone has added Callahan’s name to the list and is trying to win the game in their own way. Callahan now must protect himself and local journalist Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson) who is also being targeted due to her inclusion on the list.
Now, honestly, the film is pretty much a standard cop flick of the 1980s. People gets shot, Harry belts off one liners (the one for this film is apparently: “Opinions are like assholes; everybody’s got one), things explode, and the like. Is that what you want? Then go and have fun. You will at least be treated to a fine performance by Eastwood and some well choreographed action pieces. Oh, and a cameo by the original line up of Guns N Roses.
Plus Jim Carrey lip syncing “Welcome to the Jungle.” That alone may be worth the price of admission in terms of entertainment value.
But the problem is that Dirty Harry is not meant to be a standard police procedural and Harry Callahan is not meant to be a standard police officer. Maybe this is meant to be a commentary on how much the original film was ingrained into the action film, but was not enough to really make the film enjoyable.
Remember the first film, where just as much of the the idea was about the deconstruction of the machismo action hero compared to actual police proceedings? Well, all of that is gone in this film. Harry barely even has a conscious – he blows people away without a second thought. The way the villain is dispatched is particularly violent – normally this is par for course, but here it was bothersome because it went against what we knew about the rest of the franchise.
In the first film, violence was not exactly meant to be an ends. Harry used it as a part of his persona, but it is not what defined him. Here, it is absolutely all that he is meant to do. Every single thing about the other films has been eliminated. Harry has become almost a stereotype of himself than an actual character – fulfilling the role as required. Yes, Clint Eastwood is still quite good and I am not sure that I cannot blame him for merely going through the motions, but the magic was gone.
So what does the film have? Well, there are some attempts to comment on celebrity culture (which Harry tries to shun press after helping put away a high profile criminal) and the news media (did I mention the fact that his female accomplice is a journalist? Because the film does). Both are interesting concepts, and sort of turn toward the audiences and hmake fun of the voyeurism associated with a long film franchise. Harry wants to hide but…well, we know the character because he has been in five films, don’t we?
Yes, it’s interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Neeson plays a sort of sleazy director who, after a while, only exists so he can deny that he is the guilty party. I wanted more to come of this, but it never did. Same with Harry’s relationship with Samantha; it would have been interesting, but it never went anywhere beyond the typical damsel in distress. I would call it cliched but…well, frankly, I am just not even sure. What used to be the cutting edge had been reduced to going through the motions. It went through them very well (I can’t stress that enough) but it still amounted to nothing.
So, I am glad that this was the last film. The franchise had run out of ideas; there was no need to belabor the point. Besides, Eastwood was already a legend in Hollywood – he no longer needed to really revisit the character. I am glad, at least, that Eastwood did not have to embarrass himself.