- Clint Eastwood as Detective Wes Block
- Geneviève Bujold as Beryl Thibodeaux
- Dan Hedaya as Detective Molinari
- Alison Eastwood as Amanda Block
A thriller that functions as a study of the lines between the hunter and the hunted blurring and strange sexual predilections, Tightrope retains an impact as it explores one man’s journey into murky waters that are complicated by startling links with a killer.
In New Orleans, a spate of sexual murders among prostitutes and massage parlour girls is baffling the police. Experienced and tough Detective Wes Block is the main person investigating, while having his own demons to contend with. His wife left him a while back and he is caring for his two young daughters. While he’s a dedicated father, there is a void in his life that he fills with a dark and possibly damaging string of nocturnal activities, they will become integral later on. Beryl Thibodeaux works at a council centre for a rape prevention program that teaches women self-defense and offers shelter from abuse. She advises Block on certain aspects of the case, but Block is initially standoffish with her. Investigating further, Block discovers that he shares quite a lot of similarities with the killer; the main one being the frequenting of downtown New Orleans for hookers in exchange for kinky encounters. This profoundly disturbs Block, who is trying to balance the dark and good of his life carefully. Unfortunately the killer is very much on his tail and when women that Block has employed the services of start to fall, it starts to get extremely personal for Block. Added to this are his growing feelings for Beryl that seem almost foreign as he’s met by a woman who takes no guff and is far from willing to surrender. He must now track down the taunting killer, who seems to know about his own dark needs and is using it to his advantage to torment him.
The unobtrusive direction brings more attention to the story than just having visuals( which are very good at setting the seedy atmosphere) doing it for them, letting it play out as a slow burn that takes its time with what it wants to say. Richard Tuggle is in the director’s seat, though there have been claims over the years that Clint Eastwood actually directed most of it. Whatever the case with who directed it, Tightrope grabs the attention in a way that isn’t obvious, but still enthralling to watch nonetheless. Where Tightrope particularly soars is in the exploration of how Block sees women, and how his deviant side is given a kicking once the killer latches on to him. This proves to be fascinating to watch, particularly in how his relationship with Beryl forms and he begins to let his guard down, for perhaps the first time in a while. What Tightrope sometimes lacks in tension, it makes up for in character development and thematic value. Saying that, there are a number of chilling scenes, not least when Block’s family are targeted by the killer and the case gets very anguishing for him. It’s more the examination of the man and his attitudes that really makes Tightrope worth the watch, with the thriller parts still there but exceptionally allowing the other content to emerge. The seedy underbelly of things is never far from view as Tightrope isn’t afraid to project the unusual sexual angle to the murder, but these are thankfully not just there for sick exploitative material. They actually serve a purpose and to be honest, a lot of the horrible things that happen occur off-screen. Jazz is featured heavily in the film and excellently counteracted by an electronic pulse whenever darkness drives on the scene, providing a flip on the usually relaxed big band stuff that we hear in the beginning.
Clint Eastwood, through subtle degrees of vulnerability and encroaching shock, excellently layers his performance as the detective haunted by his own behaviour and having it replayed in grisly fashion. Just a stiffening of his neck or a slight uneasiness in his eyes says a lot more than simple dialogue can. Eastwood wisely doesn’t make Block an out-and-out creep, rather a tormented man who wants control and finds it through strange sexual activity. This is offset by his clear love for his daughters and how much he cares about them. Bringing the two sides together makes for one of Eastwood’s most understated yet vulnerable performance. Geneviève Bujold is equally as good playing the rape councillor who is far from a damsel and more than a match for the tough Eastwood. she is also the person who breaks down the wall Block has put up, thanks to her deep understanding and persistence. Bujold splendidly imbues her part with a sympathy and believable forcefulness that ensure her character is taken seriously in the passionate way she helps Block and others. Dan Hedaya is somewhat saddled with role of sidekick police partner but does pretty good, while Alison Eastwood is convincingly mature as Block’s oldest daughter who just wants her dad around a bit more. It helps that she is really Eastwood’s daughter because the bond between them is very touching.
A dark film that doesn’t shy away from anything sleazy yet wisely rises above exploitation levels, Tightrope features a complex performance from Clint Eastwood that makes it extremely watchable, especially given the disturbing content. More of a character study than out-and-out thriller, the attention given to the characters is what makes Tightrope that something different.