Eastwood report: The Enforcer

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Harry Callahan is angry again, which is a good thing, but now he’s a little too angry, and his anger is a little too general — he’s not angry at anything in particular, he’s just kind of angry. Situations that used to make him squint and sneer and move on now get him hopping mad. He seethes and grimaces throughout The Enforcer, looking for a target for his free-floating rage.

As Magnum Force reduces Dirty Harry to melodrama, The Enforcer reduces it to poor melodrama. Just about everything is off. The photography in Dirty Harry was gritty, and the photography in Magnum Force was glossy, but the photography in The Enforcer is merely pretty, lots of high-key light designed to make shooting fast and easy, which unfortunately makes it look like a high-end television cop show, not a feature film (the above still is one of the more well-lit).  The plot, too, seems unusually TV-like: "On this week’s episode of Dirty Harry, Harry is teamed with — a woman?! and hilarity ensues."

The casting, like Harry’s anger, is disastrously general — with the exception of Tyne Daly as Harry’s new partner, most of the actors look exactly like actors, you don’t believe any of them are actually doing the things the script needs them todo. That The Enforcer came out in 1976, the high-water mark of 70s naturalism, makes it that much more disturbing. Here’s a movie on screen the same year as Rocky, All the President’s Men, Network, The Bad News Bears, Taxi Driver, and Jaws, to say nothing of Eastwood’s second-best movie ever, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Those movies are impeccably cast, with large groups of actors delivering great performances in roles both large and small down to one-line walk-ons, and yet here’s Clint Eastwood casting a bunch of "types" in a generic cop drama who look, for all the world, like kids playing cops ‘n’ robbers. The chief offender is the actor playing the head bad guy, who’s supposed to be the cutthroat, bloodthirsty head of a desperate, ruthless terrorist organization but looks frighteningly like Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro.

The production design simply looks cheap — rooms look brand new, blank and hastily constructed. Even some of the set dressing is off — different modes of decoration and art are jammed together in rooms without any kind of point of view. Worse, the San Francisco of Dirty Harry has gone, in five short years, from being a dark, dingy haven for psychopaths to being a bright, sun-filled tourist destination. All of SF’s big attractions are on display — Coit Tower, Alcatraz, the Marina, Ghiardelli Square, the Transamerica building, City Hall — Harry does everything but ride a cable car and eat Rice-a-Roni.

The script engages Harry in the main mystery sooner than Magnum Force does, but then the mystery completely unravels before it needs to be solved. The bad-guy terrorists plot is: kill some gas-company guys, steal their truck, use the truck to gain access to a warehouse storing rocket launchers, steal the rocket launchers, carry them off in the stolen gas-company truck, then use the rocket-launchers as a tool to extort millions of dollars from the city. Harry spends the bulk of the story trying to piece together the truck and the warehouse and the rocket launchers and the members of the terrorist group, but then the terrorists never get around to using their hard-earned rocket launchers. No sooner do they get their rocket launchers but they kidnap the mayor and hold him for ransom, which means that they never really needed the rocket launchers to begin with.

Even the stunt work, which was so startling and visceral in Magnum Force, is lacklustre and routine here — a lot of dashing around places with guns and posing. Bad guys say "Argh" and wince when they die, and good guys say wistful, bittersweet goodbyes before gasping, twitching and staring skyward.


11 Responses to “Eastwood report: The Enforcer”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    That explains why I thought for a long time that this movie was actually made for TV.

  2. stormwyvern says:

    It’s strange when you have a series of films where you can so clearly see the quality degrading as you get further away from the original. I got a similar feeling when my friend and I were watching trailers for most of the Don Bluth films on the Banjo the Woodpile Cat DVD.

    It sounds like the only thing any of the filmmakers learned from doing Magnum Force was that Harry needs to be angry for audiences to be interested in him, but, as you said, only succeeded in making him intensely but generically angry.

    I could understand Eastwood making a mediocre to bad movie in the face of numerous good movies in a similar style; even a good or great filmmaker can have some missteps, sometimes completely in spite of the great work going on around them. But for Eastwood to make a disappointing film that comes out in the same year of another of his movie which is quite excellent? (I have actually seen The Outlaw Josey Wales and enjoyed it very much.) It’s very strange.

    • Todd says:

      I was talking with Urbaniak about this, since I, too, found it strange. The only thing we could come up with was that The Enforcer was Eastwood’s “commercial” project that year, the one he did to keep the studio happy, and he didn’t feel it necessary to spend too much creative energy on it. The director, James Fargo, had only worked as an assistant director before (for Eastwood and, oddly, Spielberg), so it seems pretty obvious that Eastwood was not looking for a director with a strong point of view but rather someone who could run the set and oversee the production while he worried about other things.

  3. lokicarbis says:

    Harry does everything but ride a cable car

    Didn’t he do that in the first movie?

  4. curt_holman says:


    The Onion AV Club did a ‘Primer’ on Clint Eastwood last week, and I thought of you: