Sudden Impact (1983)

When a young rape victim takes justice into her own hands and becomes a serial killer, it's up to Dirty Harry Callahan, on suspension from the SFPD, to bring her to justice.


Wait, what? That's how it ends? Really?

I've just about had it up to here with this series. Every movie further cements this ideological vapidity. It's one thing to criticise bureaucracy (I think we all feel pretty fed-up with "the system" from time to time; the legal system, judicial system, you name it), but this series is just… good God almighty. There's so much I dislike about the Dirty Harry series, but I think it can be best boiled down to the idea of conflated goals. On the one hand, the Dirty Harry movies are articles of crowd-pleasing, adrenaline-fueled action thrills; on the other, they're to be PSAs on the evils of bureaucracy and how it impedes justice. These two ideas don't work together because you can't treat an almost superhuman action antihero like Harry Callahan like he's Joe Schmoe. He isn't the average cop. Oh, sure, we wouldn't need bureaucracy if every single cop knew exactly who was guilty 100% of the time, but that isn't the case. I'd love, just once, to see Harry beat the living shit out of an innocent man. You don't think he'd jump at the opportunity to shoot a black guy? Oh, no, Harry Callahan always puts justice first and has absolutely no biases or flaws. He's a perfect crimefighter, which works fine in a simple action movie, but not when you're trying to make a point about the world we live in. The entire series is just one strawman argument after the other. I thought Death Wish was too overly simplistic in its "guns and shooting criminals is good" message, but compared to Dirty Harry it might as well be an issue of The Economist.

Oh, right. This is a review of a specific Dirty Harry movie.

While the Magnum Force and The Enforcer are so stylistically flat that they practically blend together, Clint Eastwood is no cinematic slouch. Unlike the last two series entries, Sudden Impact is a movie made by a filmmaker. It has a look. Eastwood strikes a balance between form and function, where the film's suspense and action is eye-popping enough to engross, but not so much so that it cannot be enjoyed on a visceral level.

Interestingly, the biggest scene stealer in Sudden Impact is Sondra Locke, Eastwood's then-wife (there's an interesting history). About halfway through I started to wish this wasn't a Dirty Harry film at all. Her quest herein is so heart-wrenching and compelling that everything Harry gets up to seems quite inert by comparison. I'd like to call her my favourite antagonist in the series just because she's so well-portrayed, but in the same breath she's also out-of-place in her own movie. I'd like to say that this is my favourite Dirty Harry movie because of just how good the good parts are, but they don't gel into a very good movie. It's good, but I don't know what it's good at being.

Nonetheless, Sudden Impact is leagues better than Magnum Force and The Enforcer. It just lacks a core. It's a series of great scenes that don't add up. I actually like the ending to some degree, but for such an intense film it sure is an anticlimax. The ending of The Enforcer, by contrast, is just right. It's the right emotional note for that particular story, and as part of this series. Sudden Impact just ends. Maybe because, once , there's nothing left to wrap up. Script wise, there's a lot that could be done to tie the threads of Sudden Impact together into a stronger film, but for what it s it works just fine.

a year ago


This was the harbinger of the lifeless Dirty Harry that the series would eventually end with. Should have just stayed in San Francisco with another "day in the life of Harry Callahan" kind of plots.

3 years ago


Sudden Impact featured an unholy marriage of styles, with the Dirty Harry portions among the coolest of the franchise (it's the one with "Go ahead, make my day"), never quite meshing with the melodramatic story of a traumatized woman avenging a gang rape. Taking Harry out of San Francisco may likewise have been a mistake. Still, you've got Clint Eastwood driving with a cocktail Molotov burning in the back seat, Harry giving a mafioso a heart attack, and Eastwood's own direction. This is probably the most artfully shot of all the pictures.

3 years ago

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