Movie of the Week: Tightrope

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Growing up, I thought Clint Eastwood made four types of movies:  westerns,  war films, Dirty Harry ones, and the two with the orangutan.  Those were his only movies I was aware of because those were the only ones I’d seen on television.  As I became older, I discovered Eastwood’s work beyond The Outlaw Josey Wales and Magnum Force.  If you’ve never seen Play Misty For Me, you owe it to yourself to check it out, it’s a wonderful tale of obsession.  For something a little different, yet familiar (think Harry Callahan’s kinky cousin), I suggest 1984’s Tightrope.  

In Tightrope, Eastwood plays Detective Wes Block. He’s divorced with two daughters and his time with them is always being interrupted by his work. Just as he’s preparing to attend a Saints game with his kids, he’s called in to investigate the murder of a prostitute. Soon, Wes will be working overtime since a killer has begun to stalk the seedier streets of New Orleans, targeting sex workers.

The first victim, who worked in a brothel, was actually murdered in her apartment following her return from her birthday party. As if the murder weren’t bad enough, it disturbs the investigators to know that the killer took his time with the victim, even stopping to make coffee and have a cup with a snack.

Forensics has plenty of evidence to work with, but its a bunch of clues which lead nowhere. One of the murder patterns which emerges is that the succeeding victims are women Wes has interacted with in a professional manner, and not just his profession, if you know what I mean. At one point, the necktie Wes accidentally left in a hooker’s room ends up at that hooker’s murder scene.

Not gonna lie, Det. Block has some issues better suited for a psychiatrist than a prostitute, but each person works out their own problems the best they know how. His ex-wife really did a number on him, and with the news of her remarrying, Block ain’t feeling his best seeing how he still has a flicker of a flame, or some kind of feelings, for her. It’s safe to say he has some animosity toward women in general, or increasing frustrations (I don’t know, I’m not a licensed therapist), stemming from his ruined marriage. The hookers are his outlet and whipping post (quite literally on occasion).

Involved in the investigation is rape prevention program director Beryl Thibodeaux. She and Wes become close, as close as Wes will allow anyway. Beryl sees a man with problems, Wes sees a woman who may help him with his problems, and the killer, who has been stalking Wes, sees more victims in them both and in Wes’ daughters.

Tightrope has some wonderfully tense sequences despite the killer and his identity being almost an afterthought. But that’s one of the things which makes the movie great. It’s another example of the build-up is better than the payoff. This is a character study of a man searching for something missing in his life, he just has to apprehend a serial killer while he does it. I’ll take Block over Callahan any day.