Mystic River

Mystic River (2003) Director: Clint Eastwood

★★★☆☆

With a star-studded cast including Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney, Mystic River is based on a 2001 novel of the same name by American writer Dennis Lehane (the screenplay was adapted by Brian Helgeland). The film was nominated for Best Picture ultimately losing to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It begins with a flashback –three boys from a poor working class section of Boston are carving their names into wet cement. Suddenly two plain-clothes cops show up and force one of the boys named Dave Boyle into a car supposedly as punishment for marking up the sidewalks. However, Dave is taken away to a remote cellar where he is brutally assaulted by the men until he manages to escape.

Years later, the boys are all adults living in the same area. Jimmy (Sean Penn) runs a convenience store and has served time in prison due to his extensive connections to local criminal gangs; Detective Sean (Kevin Bacon) has become a police officer alongside his partner (Laurence Fishburne) but we learn vague information about his estranged wife and child; and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) who is married with a son now and is clearly wrestling with his demons from childhood. One night, Jimmy’s beloved daughter is brutally murdered and the bulk of the film leads us through a whodunnit guessing game. The primary suspect is Dave Boyle, who is shockingly betrayed by his wife who suspects him as the killer when he comes home one night covered in blood. She tells Jimmy who then orchestrates a false confession (Dave is not in a sounds place of mind). Jimmy murders Dave and dumps his body into the Mystic River, an act he has committed before only to find the real murderer was his daughter’s secret boyfriend’s younger mute brother and his friend as a prank gone wrong. Jimmy realizes his mistake but he is comforted by his wife who reminds him that they are strong and she values his vengeful idea f street justice for the good of the family. It sets up an interesting dichotomy between Sean’s wife who willfully supports her husband’s illicit activities, contra Dave’s mistrustful wife who ultimately rats on her husband who is killed. The real reason Dave came home with blood all over him was because he attacked a pedophile and nearly killed him. Why does Dave not report this and thus exonerate himself? This crucial plot-hole is left mostly unanswered. The film ends with a neighborhood parade as Sean prepares to come after Jimmy for the murder of their friend Dave Boyle.

The studios were apparently lukewarm on this movie, and Clint Eastwood settled for a lower salary in order to complete it. Mystic River is a heavy, melodramatic picture that showcases some great performances, but the film as a whole could easily be shelved alongside a Law and Order episode. This is a great character-actor film, particularly performances by Tim Robbins and Sean Penn struck me as outstanding, and both won Academy Awards in their respective roles. Mystic River relies very little on effects or other distractions, and instead it relies exclusively on its actors and dramatic tension, but this is not a film I would soon return to. It is dark, somber, heavy, melancholic and for me it lacks a degree of believability.

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