Magnum Force July 16, 2015
Unless you’re Oliver Queen or the brooding anti-hero star of a comic book serial, don’t expect taking the law into your own hands to work out after months of trying. Cops can get awfully irritable, and messing with the heat isn’t a game worth playing — especially when you’ve got Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) hot on your trail. He’s got a .44 Magnum Revolver, and he isn’t afraid to play a tricky game of Russian Roulette with you if you don’t quit it.
The villain of this Dirty Harry sequel is not a deranged sniper but a vigilante posing as a traffic cop. He doesn’t figure himself to be crazy; he finds his actions to be methodical. His favorite hobby involves hunting down the thugs who escape jail time and offing them — since the law can’t manage to lock them up (the first few minutes of the film witness outrage following the release of a murderer, based on a technicality), why not do the dirty work and rid the city of the vermin that corrupts it? The foe figures he’s doing San Francisco a favor, but Harry can see through the bullshit — the guy’s a madman looking for an excuse to justify his madness; who knows how long it’ll be before he starts shooting jaywalkers? So he and his partner (Felton Perry) try to strip away all the false leads and find out what the real deal is, as their Lieutenant (Hal Holbrook) remains skeptical of Harry’s unconventional ways.
Some find the Dirty Harry movies too questionable in their ethics to really enjoy, but I find their thunderous grittiness to be gigantically entertaining. Clint Eastwood is the ultimate anti-hero, his perpetual machismo convincingly charged. He’s a man bred to seek justice, too old and worn to consider the confines of the rules. Harry is ruthless, stoic, street smart — Eastwood is so mesmerizing in the role because he doesn’t have to emote. His lined face and subtle emotional scars speak louder than the limited stretches of dialogue he has to deliver.
Magnum Force is a such an excellent sequel because it builds on what made Dirty Harry so great; we hardly need character development here, considering all we need to know is that Harry Callahan is a cop you don’t want to mess with. The thrills are leaner and meaner, the screenplay without filler, the characterizations fiendishly simple — even the villain menaces more than the previous scoundrel, as his identity is kept secret until the unpredictable truth is let out. Things might not be as rugged as they were before — Ted Post, replacing Don Siegel, prefers an adventuresome tone in comparison to the first’s sinister bloodlust — but Magnum Force is an appealing sequel that delivers the turbo-charged thrills one wants, one expects. But its quality — that’s what makes it strong enough to work on its own. A-