Independent force of the law, Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), coasted off of the “are you feeling lucky, punk?” for four other feature films after Dirty Harry. A bold move, but four films into the series and Eastwood feels comfortable directing his own rendition of Callahan and his rebellious way of taking down serial killers and terrorist threats. Sudden Impact showcases just how comfortable, and how complacent, Eastwood was in this role as a cool-headed tough police officer. Or it would have Callahan’s driving narrative focus not been his suspension from said police force. Sudden Impact renders him nothing more than a private detective, swanning around waiting for his suspension from the SFPD to lapse. For all the thrills and carnage on display throughout, let’s hope that day comes soon.
Another fascinating piece of Eastwood-directed action that doesn’t do much yet is unavoidably watchable. Sudden Impact is a genuine surprise. It pushes its narrative far further than it should, but with Callahan teaming up with a serial killer seeking revenge. Elements of romance are inevitable, but they feel uncomfortable, not because of what we know of the two, but because of how iconography envelops so deeply in a series like this. Callahan is the magnum-wielding hero who gets the girl should he wish to do so. The hypermasculinity of the times, the tough as old boots detraction, that is meant to melt away and provide a convincing romantic angle. It doesn’t. The two thought patterns try and co-exist, and the brutality that ties the two together is surprisingly well managed not just from Eastwood’s direction but from Sondra Locke’s performance as Jennifer Spencer.
Even with those strong leading performances, it isn’t a strong expansion on the Callahan storyline. Another standalone trip for a rebel without much cause, other than the upholding of the law. He’s a maverick, and at least that much is left intact. All the conventions of his style and iconography are presented, not just as reminders of who Callahan is, but as integral parts of the story. Magnum revolvers, cool suits and that same fed-up attitude are staples of Callahan, and Eastwood is keen to bolster them even further than Dirty Harry. It is more because they must take on a new style and point than any desire to innovate. Audiences will know the infamous line from Dirty Harry, the visual stylings that surround the character are given a fresh set of meanings within Sudden Impact, yet they never feel pertinent or all that engaging.
It is nice to see Eastwood try something new with the Callahan character and what he means to the rebel heroes in everyday walks of life, and in that regard, Sudden Impact is something of a sleeper hit. There are admirable shots in this feature, from extreme close-ups of murderers to the contrast of a sunglasses-wearing Eastwood, storming into court late, as expected from someone who doesn’t play by the rules. Bad men will walk free, but no man is worse than those who wear sunglasses indoors on gloomy days. Still, with a suit so slick it is hard to feel anything but awe and fear for Callahan. Eastwood relies not just on visuals, but technical stylings to keep the fire burning, with upward angles staring at Callahan, the aged hero finally breaking free from stuffy courtrooms and humdrum work to pursue the same highs he did in Dirty Harry all those years ago.