There’s an explanation as to why everybody names the seventies as the coolest decade of the 20th century, and one of those reasons is the 1971 film Dirty Harry. Of course, everyone knows this is the movie where a younger Clint Eastwood utters the iconic question, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” If you watch the whole film, you will find that this is the tip of a much bigger iceberg manifested as a really good thriller.
Starring as the irrepressible, cold and calculating Harry Callahan, Eastwood snatches the show and beckons us to follow him throughout the film. He exerts a commanding presence with his trademark swagger from beginning to end, in spite of the physical, moral and emotional hurdles thrown at him. If you haven’t guessed it already, Dirty Harry is a character study, and has us rooting for Harry for the entire 102 minutes. Speaking of plot, I have to applaud the sagacious screenplay. Sure, the premise of a detective chasing a serial killer is simple, but that doesn’t prevent the story from being engaging and above all, fun. You are definitely eager to see the son-of-a-bitch get defeated, but you are also surprised by the movie’s investigation into the morality of the law itself. It’s not as meditative as Citizen Kane, but the film is nonetheless one of the most intelligent action thrillers I’ve seen so far.
Dirty Harry also boasts a tinkling score from the genius composer Lalo Schifrin, who is undeniably one of the greatest composers still walking the planet. While it’s easy to see how other films have parodied the upbeat rhythms and suave harmonies that define his music, Schifrin’s soundtrack doesn’t distract the plot or character development, a directorial choice that I am a staunch supporter of.
However, the film does suffer from amateur cinematography and lighting, along with a villain who failed to intimidate the audience as much as Darth Vader, the Joker or Hannibal Lecter.The frequent placement of Scorpio in dimly-lit locations, to me, felt like a cheap way of symbolising his malevolent nature. Luckily, this flaw fades like a dwindling ray, as it becomes clear how Dirty Harry is the OG for other 20th century action flicks like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Speed. This, coupled with the other achievements of the film, vindicates Dirty Harry’s reputation as a great action film. It may not be able to surpass other classics like The Godfather: Part II or Lawrence of Arabia, but that doesn’t detract from its stem-winding cinematic power.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆