September 10, 1984 12:00 PM

Don’t hoot, cackle, throw things or accuse any reviewers of losing their grip, but Clint Eastwood deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his astonishingly risky performance in this film. Eastwood has played variations on his granite-faced image before, especially in 1980’s underrated Bronco Billy, but this time the effect is unsettling and unforgettable. As a New Orleans homicide detective, Eastwood is a man about to lose control. His wife has left him, and except for custody of his two young daughters (Jennifer Beck, 9, and Alison Eastwood, 12, Clint’s real daughter and a natural actress), his job is all he’s got left. A series of sex slayings precipitates a crisis. Lonely and sex-starved himself, Eastwood starts seeking more than information from the whores he questions. When several of these women turn up dead soon after he beds them, he starts questioning his own sanity. (How to reconcile the loving father with the man who likes to handcuff hookers to bedposts?) A rape-crisis therapist, played with snappy authority by Geneviève Bujold, tries to help, but Eastwood must grapple with the killer and his conscience alone. Tightrope is not a perfect movie. The plot wobbles and the climax is a bloody, horror-movie cliché. But first-time director Richard Tuggle, an Eastwood protégé who wrote Escape From Alcatraz, has wisely kept the violence to a minimum and his star at stage center. The result is an eloquent character study from an actor who used to talk with bullets. There’s hope for Hollywood yet when Clint Eastwood, at 54, can summon the emotional resources of a major actor. (R)

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