The opening is an incantation of Ford, The Grapes of Wrath and The Searchers both, a dust-bowl clan in a battered farm while Clint Eastwood, the itinerant uncle, rams his dilapidated roadster into the windmill outside and staggers out, dead-drunk. A luckless guitar-picker en route to the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, so he takes along with him his 16-year-old nephew (Kyle Eastwood), who dreams of more than heading to California to pick cotton with the Okies, and grandpa Joe McIntire, who wants to return to his native Tennessee to die off. The American family was reinvented by Eastwood in Bronco Billy, and here he examines the roots of the dissipation -- the Depression is in full bloom, chicken coops are looted and the kid gets the idea of breaking his uncle out of jail from a buckaroo-saga matinee poster. McIntire recalls the past, "not just the land, the dream," now "all turned to dust"; nearby, Eastwood cools down in a vat of water with Stetson and cigarette, until a bellicose bull comes a-knockin'. A "change of pace" for the filmmaker, but, whether in the streets or the range, Eastwood's thematic concern remains as rigorous as his style is easy, calm, delicate. A lifeworn comedy, with Eastwood playing the straight man to Barry Corbin, Tim Thomerson, and Tracey Walter, and tragedy in the wings -- the songwriter, with his nephew's aid, may finally get a hit, but his vocal cords are already razed by tuberculosis. Eastwood remembers the (lost) love of his life at the passenger's seat during a nocturnal ride, close-ups modulated into superb shadow abstraction, and his love for music proliferates all through -- Linda Hopkins torching the blues at a Memphis dive, tone-deaf stowaway Alexa Kenin warbling "My Bonnie" in a pastoral Arkansas composition, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" quietly played over a grave. The camera circles Eastwood at the mike, wheezing the title tune as his real-life son contemplates the record storing it all, the filmmaking process equated to creating music and the progression of life turned into art, executed with lucidity and with family. Clancy Carlile adapted his novel. With Matt Clark, Verna Bloom, Jerry Hardin, Macon McNamara, and Joe Regalbuto.
--- Fernando F. Croce